Today, the Department for Education and Ofqual have set out how qualifications, including vocational qualifications, will be assessed in 2021. It’s been decided that the majority of students will receive teacher-assessed grades based on what they’ve been taught so far.
So what are the plans for the further education sector? Here’s what we know so far.
How will vocational students be assessed?
The approach to exams and assessments varies and qualifications have been split into three different categories:
Vocational and technical qualifications most like GCSEs and A levels and used for progression to FE or HE, including Btecs, Cambridge Nationals/Technicals, International Baccalaureate:
Exams will not go ahead and awarding will be on teacher assessment similar to GCSE and A level. Internal assessment can be used as part of the evidence.
VTQs used for direct entry to employment and used to demonstrate occupational or professional competence, including subject areas like construction, accounting, plumbing and automotive:
Exams will continue to be delivered in a Covid-secure way. Alternative arrangements cannot be used to assess the learner’s competence.
VTQs unlike GCSEs, AS and A levels but used for progression or employment, including functional skills and ESOL Skills for Life:
Assessments will go ahead in a Covid-secure way or remotely. Alternative arrangements, including teacher assessment, will only be made where assessment cannot take place.
Exams 2021: Ofqual reveals plan for Btecs and VTQs
How will teacher assessment work?
The focus will be on teachers assessing what the student has been taught – and where students have been unable to access practical lessons, if the centre and the exam board deem it appropriate, they 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.
The DfE has confirmed that no algorithm will be used, 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 a student’s course, such as essays or in-class tests. Exam boards will be providing teachers with sets of questions they can use for assessment, if they wish to, but these questions will not be compulsory.
How will grades be quality assured?
Grades will be quality assured by providers and exam boards.
At provider level
In college, processes for assessing students will be determined by exam board requirements. The processes chosen by the providers will need to be reviewed and signed off by exam boards prior to submission. Providers must declare that exam boards' requirements have been met and that grading teachers have had access to necessary support.
At exam board level
Exam boards will check the internal college quality assurance processes, and there will be sample checks of evidence over June and July. There will be risk-based checks based on significant changes in patterns of results, changes in entry patterns, newness of centres and any specific concerns.
If issues are identified, the provider will be asked to investigate. By exception, exam boards can change grades if there is an unsatisfactory outcome of an investigation or malpractice.
When will results be given to learners?
Results for the relevant VTQs that are needed to secure college or university places will be issued on or before 10 and 12 August to align with A level and GCSEs, so all students have equal opportunities to access FE and HE places.
Results for other VTQs will be issued at other points throughout the year as usual.
How will appeals work?
Students can appeal based on two things: the first is if they feel their provider didn’t go through the right steps, including running an internal quality assurance process, and the second is where students are appealing against their grade.
When it comes to students appealing their grade, students will need to go through their provider first, which will need to check for errors or process issues. If a student still wishes to appeal after the checks, it will be escalated to the exam board, which will look at the judgement and the evidence submitted. Students will not be charged for appealing grades, but details are still be worked out on whether or not centres will have to pay.
Reaction from the sector: '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.”