Schools offering T-levels could be charged higher fees if fewer-than-expected pupils sign up for the qualifications.
Documents obtained by Schools Week’s sister paper FE Week show the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education is proposing new contracts for exam boards that provide T-levels that feature a “demand-sensitive” pricing model.
A full invitation to tender will be launched by March for the contract to provide T-levels, a technical alternative to A-levels, in health, healthcare science and science, all held currently by NCFE.
The government predicts 32,400 entrants to the T-level in health over five years, 9,700 entrants to the T-level in healthcare science and 16,900 to the T-level in science.
However, if learner numbers don’t reach forecasted levels, providers including schools could be left fitting the bill.
The contracts will feature a new “adaptive pricing model” which will allow awarding organisations to make a “one-off adjustment” to the entry fee it charges providers if the projected number of students increases or decreases over the contract term.
This is described as “an adjustment facility for higher learner fees at lower learner numbers.”
Just 200 schools offer T-levels
The change comes at a time when the government is seeking to encourage more schools and more pupils to take up the new qualifications, which have faced a barrage of teething problems.
According to government figures, only around 200 schools currently provide T-levels.
Last year, an Ofsted review found “many” students have dropped out of T-levels after being “misled” onto the flagship qualifications, while experienced teachers struggle to teach the “complex” courses.
Students and teachers have also reported feeling “let down” by the early rollout and fear the brand is already damaged, as universities refuse to accept the qualifications for entry.
The latest procurement round comes after the IfATE launched tenders for seven of the qualifications in education and early years, construction and digital in December.
The government has forecast student numbers for the three health and science T-levels will increase by over five times.
Around 1,800 students took the qualifications in 2022. In 2026-27, when the new awarding contracts start, the DfE predicts 10,200 students will sign up, rising to 12,200 by the end of the contract period, 2030-31.
Under T-level contracts, one awarding organisation is responsible for updating content and assessment materials, providing training to teachers and provider staff, quality control, and assessing and grading students for each qualification.
Contract values still unknown
New contracts will be awarded for five years, with the option for up to three annual extensions, overlapping with the government’s reforms to level 3 qualifications and the development of the Advanced British Standard.
It’s not yet clear how much these contracts will be worth. Contract values for each T-level are expected when the invitation to tender is released in the next couple of months.
Jennifer Coupland, chief executive of IfATE, said: “My team has worked closely with awarding bodies and providers in the design of the next round of procurement to make them even more commercially attractive.”
FE Week understands the lower-than-expected student numbers and high development and operating costs have left several awarding organisations barely breaking even on their T-level contracts.
Start dates for teaching of the newly re-licensed T-levels will be staggered.
Students will be taking new generation 2 T-levels in early years, construction and digital from September 2025, while the health and science T Levels won’t be ready for teaching until September 2026.
The awarding organisations that currently hold T Level licenses can re-tender, though the generation 2 contracts do make provisions for staff to be transferred under TUPE regulations if a new awarding organisation takes over.
Documents also state “there will be a need for constructive collaboration” in the event of an overlap from one T-level license holder to another.
The health and science T-levels suffered from well-publicised issues which led to results being regraded in their first year. Various changes have been made to make them fit for purpose.
Ministers are standing firmly behind T-levels despite the prime minister announcing last year they are set to be replaced by the Advanced British Standard in the next decade.