The grade boundaries for BTEC Tech Awards have been raised – just days before students are due to receive their results.
The move is expected to affect college applications for thousands of students taking the level 2 qualifications, who could receive lower grades than expected. A petition calling for the changes to be reversed has been signed by more than 4,300 people.
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A letter sent out by Pearson said that the exam board had made changes to ensure that grades are “fair and have equal value to other level 2 qualifications”.
It adds: “We realise that you may have a college place offered to you based on the previous points table. If this is the case, we advise you to use this letter to explain to the admissions office that Pearson has adjusted the qualification grade points table, and that your assessment grades are accurate and reflect your achievement of the criteria that was being assessed.”
A statement published by Lucy Parkin, who set up the petition, states: “[The change] means that most students will receive one grade lower than what they have achieved. Students studying BTEC Tech Award in health and social care, engineering and enterprise (where claims are made for 2019) are going to be affected.
“Due to the lack of organisation and information shared with teachers and organisations about these changes many students have missed an opportunity to resit the exam as they believed (and were guided using Pearson's own grade calculator) that their grades were secure.”
A Pearson spokesperson said: "We can confirm that we have updated our BTEC Tech Award qualification grading tables in the first year of certification to ensure that the outcomes, both now and in the future, are comparable and in line with our expectations for this and other level 2 vocational qualifications and GCSEs.
“It is important that we made these changes now, to ensure that outcomes are fair and completely in line with expectations for the cohort as a whole. Even after making these changes, BTEC students across the cohort have performed very well. All students can be confident that they have received a fair and accurate grade that reflects their hard work and ability.”
BTEC changes 'could be career-ending'
Toby Fox, an assistant head for teaching and learning in Leeds, told Tes that he believed the changes could jeopardise students' places at college, and even teachers' careers.
“Teachers are frightened in their schools. In my school, results are put into context so we wouldn’t use this in performance management, but there are schools that are like that," he said.
“I think for some this is career-ending. I have spoken to people who have said, 'This is the end for me.' They will be held accountable for these results and the fact that their predictions weren’t correct.
“Students who were issued distinction and distinction star qualifications will now be issued merits, even passes. These are the students who are looking for careers in BTEC routes. I don’t think it will stop them progressing but it’s a competitive environment, and it could affect them even when applying to university in some years' time."
A lack of communication
Mr Fox also criticised the communication about the changes from Pearson, which he said had been communicated through "quality nominees", rather than directly through schools.
“If someone’s quality nominee is on holiday, they haven’t [conveyed] the information and so staff were completely unaware. So many BTEC teachers are one-person departments, so when something like this happens from an accountability framework point of view, there are some people who are left alone to deal with it. It can be incredibly isolating,” he said.
Several members of a Facebook group for BTEC teachers said neither their quality nominees nor exams officer had received any communication from Pearson.
Over the weekend, many teachers have taken to social media to voice their opinions on the changes.
As if this is enough? Seriously @PearsonEdexcel @PearsonPerfArts the petition now nearly has 5000 signatures, teachers are looking for alternatives, 👏👏👏 well done Edexcel for your complete lack of consistency now in all your Arts qualifications. https://t.co/vhEXwwmM70— Tracy Dorrington (@BelieveMissT) August 19, 2019
So @PearsonEdexcel can you explain why you have increased your published grade boundaries for the Btec Tech Award for pupils who have completed the course believing they have achieved results based on what YOU said they would? SO damaging for SO many young people. pic.twitter.com/8c7SR24gRh— Jane Coley (@JaneColey8) August 18, 2019
@DrHeery any of your schools affected by the @Pearson_UK @PearsonEdexcel changes to BTEC Tech Award grade boundaries last week.— John Doe (@JohnDoe247365) August 19, 2019
Letter dates 16.08.19 available via an e news bulletin. Stumbled across it via error. Our QN not informed pic.twitter.com/c0zYI86PVg
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the original grade boundaries should be honoured for this year.
“We understand that these are new qualifications and the original grade boundaries were based upon modelling that took place in this context," he said. "However, we are concerned that this modelling was significantly awry. It also seems that neither centres nor candidates were advised that the original grade boundaries were indicative and that they could change.
“It is our view that the original grade boundaries should be honoured for this year, and we will be seeking urgent talks with the exam board, Ofqual and the Department for Education accordingly."