Running vocational and technical exams in the middle of a national lockdown is "unfair" on staff and students, the chief executive of the Association of Colleges has said. His comment comes as the government clarifies "exams and vocational assessments scheduled to take place in January will go ahead as planned" despite the national lockdown announced by the prime minister tonight.
This evening, prime minister Boris Johnson announced a national lockdown for England and said schools and colleges would move to remote provision from 5 January – only giving in-person teaching to vulnerable students and children of key workers.
Mr Johnson also said that the summer's exams would not go ahead as planned – but did not say that plans to January's exams would be changed. Guidance from the government on the lockdown later stated: "Public exams and vocational assessments scheduled to take place in January will go ahead as planned."
AoC chief executive David Hughes told Tes: "It seems at the moment that the government is keen for the January VTQ exam series to go ahead. My view is it cannot go ahead. Is not safe and it is not fair and attendance will be very low."
He added: "Is it unfair on college leaders to ask staff to come in when the prime minister says there should be no travel other than essential travel. It is unfair on students that they will be treated differently to students sitting exams over the summer. I will be urging the government to cancel the January exam series as soon as possible."
Speaking on the summer's exams, the prime minister said this evening: "We recognise that this will mean it's not possible, or fair, for all exams to go ahead this summer, as normal. The education secretary will work with Ofqual to put in place alternative arrangements."
He added: "We will provide extra support to ensure that pupils entitled to free school meals will continue to receive them while schools are closed, and we will distribute more devices to support remote education."
Labour's shadow education secretary Kate Green called on Gavin Williamson to answer questions on BTEC exams in parliament on Wednesday, and said that "students, teachers and parents will be worried sick".
PM says not 'all' exams can go ahead, but doesn't say which. Students, teachers and parents will be worried sick; BTECs are happening this week. @GavinWilliamson must come to parliament on Wednesday to answer questions— Kate Green (@KateGreenSU) January 4, 2021
Association of Employment and Learning Providers chief policy officer Simon Ashworth said: “It’s been a long hard few months for tens of thousands of apprentices who have been massively disadvantaged by being unable to take their functional skills tests for maths and English due to Covid restrictions. Having now taken a decision on GCSEs and A levels, let’s hope that finally the government and Ofqual will green light a return to centre assessed grades for functional skills instead of holding up apprentices’ progress for even longer.“
Last week, responding to her concerns around the January exams, education secretary Gavin Williamson told Parliament: "Those assessments will continue as planned in those establishments that are delivering them."
"We made the decision about the importance of those youngsters being able to continue to take those qualifications over the coming weeks," he added.
College leaders have previously raised serious over whether exams can take place safely. According to the AoC, around 135,000 students are due to take assessments or sit exams in colleges this week.