BTECs: Almost 60% of colleges cancel January exams 

EXCLUSIVE: Tes analysis shows most English colleges have cancelled this month's exams after DfE gave them the choice

Kate Parker

Coronavirus and BTECs: Most of England's colleges have cancelled January exams, Tes analysis shows

Almost 60 per cent of colleges in England have cancelled the January exam series, exclusive Tes analysis reveals. 

Earlier this week, following pressure from the sector to cancel the series altogether, the Department for Education told colleges that despite the national lockdown, they could hold exams over the coming weeks where “they judge it right to do so”. 

Tes surveyed about half of England's around 240 colleges and college groups, and found that 71 colleges had cancelled exams completely, while 37 colleges were going ahead with the exams for those students who wished to sit them.

Around 10 per cent had cancelled some exams like BTECs but were still holding final competency exams for students. 


Need to know: DfE updates lockdown guidance for FE

BTECs: Williamson refuses to U-turn on January exams

Pearson: Students can sit at later date, says Pearson


Sector leaders and MPs hit out at the government’s decision to put decision-making in colleges’ hands.

Speaking in the House of Commons earlier this week, education secretary Gavin Williamson defended the decision and said that “no college should feel pressure to offer those [January exams] and we will make sure all students can progress fairly, as we will with VTQs [vocational and technical qualifications] in the summer."

He added it was important to give colleges and providers flexibility, as there were many young people who "will actually need to complete their professional competency qualifications in order to get work and job opportunities". 

Labour's shadow education secretary, Kate Green, said Mr Williamson was failing to show leadership on January exams. She told Parliament: "He is leaving it simply to schools and colleges to decide what they should do in difficult circumstances."

And Conservative MP Peter Aldous said there was "worry, confusion and uncertainty" in colleges, who should not have been placed in a position of making the choice. 

In a statement published on its website this week, BTEC exam board Pearson told students that if they are unable to sit their exams this month, they may be able to sit them at a later date. It added that where it was not possible to sit a physical exam, arrangements would be put in place to ensure that students were not disadvantaged. 

'The difficult decision'

The London South East Colleges Group decided to go ahead with the exam series. Chief executive Sam Parrett told Tes that providing students with the choice of taking the exams was “the right thing to do”.

“My colleagues and I have taken the difficult decision this week that any student wanting to take their vocational exams should be able to," she said. "We know that many students want to sit the tests they have worked so hard for – and providing them with the choice to do this is the right thing to do. 

“Other students, understandably, will choose not to come on-site at a time when we are all being told to stay at home. Again, we will fully support their decision and will do everything we can to ensure these students are not disadvantaged in any way. 

“Giving students a choice as to whether or not they sit exams this month is tough logistically, but we are working hard to do what’s right, while protecting them, their families and our own staff as much as possible. “

However, Bill Webster, principal and chief executive of Bolton College, said that after weighing up the different arguments, the decision to cancel exams was taken. 

"We took the decision straight away on hearing the lockdown news that the college would cancel the exams," he said. "Students will still be offered a grade or be given the opportunity to do the exam at a later date, so we are confident no student will lose out.

"We weighed up the different arguments and decided that my ultimate responsibility is for the health and safety of the staff and students. That has to come first. And with the huge spike in local and national cases, we decided the safest option was to not go through with exams."

Association of Colleges chief executive David Hughes said: “Every college wants their students to feel prepared and confident for the future, and individual colleges have made snap decisions in circumstances where government had decided not to make one. The important thing now is for DfE to set out a clear plan for the summer.

"Vocational qualifications are complex in a normal year, so now, more than ever, students and colleges need clarity for the next six months to ensure every student has the chance to succeed and move on to their next step.”

The list of surveyed colleges in full 

Those that have cancelled January exams

  • Abingdon and Witney College
  • Aquinas College
  • Ashton-under-Lyne Sixth Form College
  • Barnet and Southgate College
  • Barnfield College
  • Barnsley College
  • Barton Peveril Sixth Form College
  • Berkshire College of Agriculture
  • Bexhill College
  • Bolton College
  • Bradford College
  • Brooklands College
  • Brooksby Melton College
  • Burton and South Derbyshire College
  • Cheshire college – South & West
  • City College Group
  • Greater Brighton Metropolitan College 
  • City College Plymouth
  • Craven College
  • Harlow College
  • Loughborough College
  • Luminate Group
  • Manchester College
  • NCG
  • Selby College
  • The Sheffield College
  • Birkenhead Sixth Form College
  • Blackpool and the Fylde College
  • York College
  • Gateshead College
  • Fareham College
  • City of Stoke-on-Trent Sixth Form College
  • Newham Sixth Form College
  • Kirklees College
  • South Devon College
  • Wigan and Leigh College
  • Lambeth College
  • Halesowen College
  • Itchen College
  • Nottingham College
  • Northampton College
  • Exeter College
  • Peterborough Regional College
  • Newham Sixth Form College
  • South Thames Colleges Group
  • Milton Keynes College
  • Stratford-upon-Avon College
  • Truro and Penwith College
  • Southampton City College
  • Tameside College
  • Sandwell College
  • Oaklands College
  • Stockport College
  • Solihull College
  • North Warwickshire and South Leicestershire College 
  • Worthing College
  • Woking College
  • The College of West Anglia
  • Suffolk New College
  • Calderdale College
  • Carmel College
  • Chesterfield College
  • Bath College
  • Sunderland College
  • East Sussex College Group
  • Godalming College
  • Grantham College
  • Hadlow College
  • Croydon College
  • DN Colleges Group
  • Hugh Baird College


Colleges where exams are going ahead

  • Activate Learning Group
  • Askham Bryan College
  • Basingstoke College of Technology
  • Bedford College Group
  • Bishop Burton College
  • Brighton Hove and Sussex Sixth Form College
  • Chichester College
  • East Kent College Group
  • London South East Colleges
  • Telford College   
  • Weston College
  • Derby College
  • Grimsby Institute of Further and Higher Education
  • Havering Sixth Form College
  • Luton Sixth Form College
  • The Oldham College
  • Kendal College
  • Huddersfield New College
  • Shrewsbury Colleges Group 
  • Havant & South Downs College
  • Highbury College
  • City of Wolverhampton College
  • Lancaster and Morecambe College
  • Newbury College
  • Richard Huish College
  • Hertford Regional College
  • Rochdale Sixth Form College
  • The City of Liverpool College
  • The Bournemouth and Poole College
  • Wakefield College
  • Varndean College
  • Eastleigh College
  • Bury College
  • EKC group
  • East Riding College
  • Franklin College
  • Dearne Valley College

Colleges where exams are partially going ahead

  • Nelson and Colne College 
  • Central Bedfordshire College
  • Dudley College of Technology
  • Ludlow College
  • Harrow College
  • John Ruskin College
  • Richmond-upon-Thames College
  • Walsall College
  • South and City College Birmingham
  • Darlington College
  • Chelmsford College

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Kate Parker

Kate Parker is a FE reporter.

Find me on Twitter @KateeParker

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