A petition calling on the government to replace January’s exams with centre-assessed grades has reached more than 100,000 signatures.
The petition, which urges the government to “allow BTEC students to achieve teacher-predicted grades rather than being forced into a system that is unethically downgrading thousands of students grades” adds to the mounting pressure the government is facing to U-turn on its decision to press ahead with the exams.
Tens of thousands of students are scheduled to sit BTEC and Cambridge National exams this month.
Student voice: ‘It’s not safe for us to take these exams’
National lockdown: AoC urges DfE to cancel Btec exams
In his lockdown announcement to the nation yesterday, prime minister Boris Johnson confirmed that the summer’s exams could not go ahead as planned, but did not offer any clarity on this month’s exams.
An hour later, much to the dismay of college leaders and students, the government confirmed that the vocational exams would go ahead as planned.
‘A shambolic mess’
The University and College Union (UCU) is the latest organisation to call on the government to cancel the exams over student and staff safety.
UCU’s head of further education, Andrew Harden, said: “If college campuses in England are not safe to the extent that remote learning will be in place until at least February then this government cannot justify asking staff and students to travel this week to institutions to sit exams. Staff and students will rightly be asking why summer exams are likely to be cancelled but those taking place now during a full national lockdown can go ahead.
“The government must give staff and students clarity and ensure a fair approach to grading using a different system, such as teacher assessment. BTEC students faced a shambolic mess in 2020 with delays to results and it’s clear that, once again, they are an afterthought for this government. Staff and student safety must be the priority.”
'An after thought'
This afternoon, Labour's shadow minister for apprenticeships and lifelong learning said that the exams could not go ahead "safely or fairly".
He said: "The government must cancel them and work with schools and colleges to develop a genuinely fair alternative for pupils this summer. When the prime minister announced the cancellation of summer GCSE and A-level exams, he did not even mention Btec students taking exams this week.
“Once again Btec students who have missed out on lots of core practical teaching this year are an afterthought for this government.”
'Confused and alarmed'
Meanwhile metro mayors Andy Burnham and Steve Rotheram have released a joint statement calling for the exams to be cancelled.
In their statement they said that they had been contacted by students, college leaders, headteachers and parents who were "confused and alarmed" that the Btec exams were to continue in January.
They said: "These exams involve 130,000 students across the country and the whole of the FE sector is concerned that allowing them to go ahead not only puts staff and students at risk, but once again demonstrated the continued lack of parity for Btec students compared with those sitting A levels and GCSEs, and the divide that remains between vocational and academic education."
They added that Btecs were more likely to be studied by those from working-class background and ethnic minority communities – and to not treat these students on par with their peers would be a "double injustice".