Ofqual's plans for FE assessment: what you need to know

The regulator has published its consultation document on how VTQs and other general qualifications should be assessed

Kate Parker

Ofqual's plans for exams: what FE needs to know

Practical exams and assessments used demonstrate occupational competence for work and apprenticeships should take place as normal over the coming months if it is safe to do so, Ofqual has said.

In a consultation document published today, the exams regulator said that the assessments should go ahead where they can be delivered in line with public health guidelines, including remotely. Where they cannot be delivered safely, Ofqual suggests they should be delayed.

When it comes to functional skills and other "on-demand" assessments, these too should be delivered in line with public health guidelines, including remotely, it said.

Any learners who cannot access assessments should have alternative arrangements put in place to award results, the regulator says.

Ofqual also suggests that for T levels, delivered for the first time from last September, the core exams should not go ahead as planned. Instead, they should be sat next year. Ofqual adds that students should still have the option to take the employer-set project. 


GCSEs 2021: Teachers to mark exam board questions

Btecs: Exams should not go ahead in February and March

In full: Gavin Williamson's exams letter to Ofqual


The Extended Extraordinary Regulatory Framework

The regulator is also proposing to revise the Extended Extraordinary Regulatory Framework (Extended ERF) for vocational and technical exams this year.

It adds that a revised version of the Extended ERF would allow awarding organisations to continue to offer adapted assessments for those qualifications in scope, and award qualifications where exams have not taken place and learners have not been able to complete all other assessments.

It writes: "For qualifications that demonstrate occupational competency or act as a licence to practise, Ofqual proposes the approach and provisions in the Extended ERF continue to remain appropriate and the new alternative regulatory arrangements should not apply.

"This is necessary to ensure that employers can have confidence in the knowledge, skills and understanding of learners achieving these qualifications and are competent to operate in the workplace."

Ofqual says that the proposed arrangement would:

  • Permit AOs to develop an approach to awarding qualifications in scope of the Department’s proposed policy on the basis of incomplete assessment evidence, considering the minimum evidential requirement for awarding qualifications to ensure sufficient validity and reliability. AOs should also consider where they need additional assessment evidence from teachers and what form this should take. Ofqual adds that for qualifications most similar to GCSEs, AS and A levels, AOs should use similar approaches to assessment and awarding.
  • Expect awarding organisations to be mindful of the burden their approach places on centres and learners, and to provide clear and timely advice and guidance.
  • Require awarding organisations to issue certificates (where appropriate) as normal and to not refer on the certificate to a result having been determined under the alternative regulatory arrangements.
  • Require awarding organisations to include private learners in their arrangements as far as possible.
  • Permit awarding organisations to take the same approach for qualifications taken in international markets, provided that this does not undermine the validity of the qualifications. AOs should consider and address the risks around malpractice and the particular needs of the international market.

Yesterday, Tes exclusively revealed that when it comes to GCSEs and A levels, teachers will mark preset questions set by exam boards. 

In a letter to Ofqual earlier this week, education secretary Gavin Williamson said that he expected students on Btecs and other vocational and technical qualifications (VTQs) to receive calculated results again this year. 

Many VTQs were used for progression to further study instead of, or alongside, GCSEs and A levels, said Mr Williamson, and it was critical that these students were awarded a qualification and could access the same progression opportunities.

Tom Bewick, chief executive of the Federation of Awarding Bodies, said: "FAB welcomes this joint consultation from Ofqual and the DfE. This more joined-up approach will give the sector extra confidence that government policy is being better aligned with the regulations necessary to progress every learner this summer or issue them with a fair set of valid and reliable results.

“It is also welcome to see that Ofqual wishes to ensure consistency and fairness between academic and vocational learners, including private candidates, although a lot of fine detail is still yet to be worked through. The key thing to remember is that awarding organisations have learnt a great deal in terms of implementing the existing Extended Extraordinary Regulatory Framework, so we are looking to Ofqual to help build on that approach. There is no evidence, for example, of major grade inflation as a result of VTQs being awarded using this framework since the pandemic began. Similarly, exam boards are well equipped to ensure a fair model of teacher assessed grades, in what remains, unprecedented circumstances.”

David Hughes, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said: “A coherent framework is crucial to ensure colleges and those due to take exams this year have confidence and are clear about the processes for teacher-based and other assessments in the coming months.

"The consultations cover complex ground and we will work with members to provide a full response to help get this all to work as well as it possibly can. Our over-arching worry though is that the issue of differential lost learning will remain challenging throughout this year and beyond. This is particularly true of students on competency based courses where hands-on training is needed but it affects learners across the whole cohort. There is no simple answer or quick fix, but particularly for those disadvantaged by digital poverty we urge the government to fund the catch up support many students will need.

"We support the need for a short consultation because it should help DfE and Ofqual reach decisions quickly to put students’ minds at rest and help colleges plan for the rest of the academic year. The short timescale will be challenging for colleges and other providers but I am confident that they will want to both digest and consider the proposals fully. We will continue to work closely with Ofqual and DfE to ensure that colleges are confident that the arrangements for summer 2021 are fair, consistent and give their students the opportunity to succeed.”

Bill Watkin, chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges Association, said: “We welcome the proposals set out in today’s consultation and the speed with which they have been developed. Teachers know their students best and it is right that their professional expertise will be at the heart of the awarding process this summer. It is also right that externally set tasks should form part of the body of evidence on which teachers will base their assessment judgements. These tasks should not be confused with more high-stakes exams, they are just one of several sources of information about a student’s ability that will inform teachers’ grade submissions.

“In order to avoid some of the problems of last summer, and to ensure consistency, teachers will need to know in advance how rigidly the summer 2021 grades must be comparable to last year’s grade profile. They must also have government protection and must not be left exposed and vulnerable to undue pressure and challenge from candidates and their families at any stage in the awarding process. In affording this protection, it will be important to establish how predicted grades that have already been given to students (for sixth form or university admission for example) relate to the eventual teacher assessments in the early summer.”

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Kate Parker

Kate Parker is a FE reporter.

Find me on Twitter @KateeParker

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