Exams 2021: Ofqual reveals plan for Btec and other VTQs

Btec and other vocational students will get teacher-assessed grades, but functional skills exams can continue
25th February 2021, 12:01am


Exams 2021: Ofqual reveals plan for Btec and other VTQs

Exams 2021: Ofqual Reveals Plan For Btecs & Vtqs

Students studying Btecs and other vocational qualifications will not sit exams and will receive teacher-assessed grades this summer, the Department for Education has confirmed. 

The DfE also revealed that results days will be brought forward by a fortnight to the week beginning 9 August to give students more time to appeal, and to ensure that those students reliant on those outcomes “have the best chance of accessing a place”.

Teachers will be assessing on the basis of what students have been taught - and where students have been unable to access practical lessons, if the centre and the exam board deem it appropriate, learners will have an option to retake assessment on those at a later date. Teachers will need to submit grades to exam boards by 18 June. 

Where students need to demonstrate professional competency standards for occupations, exams and assessment can continue.

The DfE has also confirmed functional skills exams should continue in line with public health measures, but with teacher assessments available for those who cannot access the exams remotely. 

Ofqual is exploring with awarding organisations to see if their existing autumn and winter assessment opportunities are sufficient - or if further opportunities are required.

News: Catch-up cash for 16-19 Tuition Fund announced

More: Why were FE colleges an afterthought again this week?

Background: Functional skills and the clashes over apprenticeship decision

The DfE has confirmed that no algorithm will be used on teacher-assessed grades this year, and teachers will draw on a range of evidence when determining grades, including the optional use of questions provided by exam boards, as well as mock exams, coursework or other work completed as part of learner’s studies, such as essays or in-class tests.

Colleges will also be expected to check consistency of judgements across their provision and that the correct processes were followed. 

Gavin Williamson: ‘Right’ to continue with vocational exams

Education secretary Gavin Williamson said: “Young people have shown incredible resilience over the last year, continuing with their learning amidst unprecedented challenges while the country battles with this pandemic. Those efforts deserve to be fairly rewarded.

“That’s why we are providing the fairest possible system for those pupils, asking those who know them best - their teachers - to determine their grades, with our sole aim to make sure all young people can progress to the next stage of their education or career.

“I also recognise many students need their vocational and technical qualifications to enter into work. Exams and practical assessments in these courses are essential for the students to progress to the next stage, and so it’s right that these continue.”

Ofqual’s interim chief regulator, Simon Lebus, said: “We know how difficult this past year has been for many students, parents, schools and colleges. In normal years, we rely on exams to support students’ progression.

“This year it is teachers’ judgement that will be used to assess what has been learned and determine student grades. Assessment cannot itself serve as an instrument to recover lost learning and compensate for the different experiences students will have had in different parts of the country, and the arrangements being put in place will therefore only take into account what students have been taught, not what they have missed. The aim is to make it no harder overall for this year’s students to receive a particular grade than students in other years.

“I am confident that these arrangements will allow all parts of the education and training sector to work together collectively to make sure.” 


‘A lot to take in’

Association of Colleges chief executive David Hughes said there was a lot to take in even before each awarding organisation issued more information in March about how they will take it forward.

 “Overall, the package is the best solution to a difficult situation - trusting teachers to make judgements, based on evidence and quality assured should deliver the fairest possible results this year. We need Ofqual, DfE and awarding organisations to be very aware of the potential for bias in this approach and look forward to seeing analysis on how the system works for black and minority ethnic students as well as those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

 “We are also concerned that bringing forward the GCSE results days to early August will create extremely high workloads for the college staff managing the admission and transfer process at 16 as well as the advice and support to students progressing on from college into higher education, apprenticeships and jobs.”

Challenging time frame


Bill Watkin, chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges Association, said: “Sixth form colleges are pleased to have some clarity about how grades will be awarded this summer and welcome the decision to put teachers’ professional judgement at the heart of the process. The impact of the pandemic on young people’s learning has been significant and variable, so students cannot be expected to answer questions on all topics, and teachers will appreciate the opportunity to draw on a range of evidence when determining grades.

“One of the big challenges facing colleges now is the time frame: teachers do not have long to mark all the work, decide on the grades to submit and have them quality assured by college leaders. Dealing with two results days in one week is of particular concern - colleges will be trying to support 18 year-old leavers in their university applications, while enrolling and inducting their new cohort of 16 year olds - all in the middle of the summer holidays, when staff ought to be recovering from the exertions of a most demanding year”.

Clearing the logjam

Association of Employment and Learning Providers chief executive Jane Hickie said: “After five months of battling and now a government timetable for ending the lockdown, the confirmation that teacher assessments will be permitted seems almost like a Pyrrhic victory for the thousands of apprentices who have been unable to progress. It is also disappointing that the assessments can’t begin until after Easter on technical grounds which don’t seem to trouble the Welsh government.

“We anticipate that teacher assessments will be needed despite the lockdown restrictions being lifted and it may take up to the end of July to clear the logjam of untaken FSQ tests. Independent training providers, assessors and apprentices are at the back of the queue in receiving Covid home testing kits and therefore safety considerations are likely to lead in a demand for the alternative arrangements allowed by this consultation outcome.

“Young apprentices have been let down very badly by this sorry episode of complete indifference during an unprecedented pandemic, and many of them are now beyond the planned end dates of their apprenticeship programmes, meaning that they are reliant on their providers to support them unfunded. Not exactly the apprenticeship guarantee that the prime minister had in mind.

“As a consequence of this, the next bottleneck is going to be a run on demand for end-point assessment between April and July, which historically is the busiest time of the year.”

Tom Bewick, chief executive of the Federation of Awarding Bodies, said: “We welcome the clarity provided by the arrangements for this summer. The joint approach of the regulator and the Department for Education working closely with awarding bodies means we can plan with some confidence how we ensure that every learner can progress this year. We also welcome the excellent work that the minister, Gillian Keegan, has been doing with FAB’s members as the chair of the VTQ task force. This group is providing an important overview of the implementation arrangements for the summer in relation to all vocational and technical qualifications.”

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