Ofqual has said it might accept a “slightly lower level of performance” as the pass threshold for the new functional skills qualifications.
In a letter published on Friday, the exam regulator stated that the reform of functional skills qualifications aimed to ensure that the new qualifications “better meet employer needs in terms of the knowledge and skills that learners achieve”.
Background: Ofqual blasts 'confusion' over BTECs
More on this: Functional skills changes 'could be a real mistake'
GCSEs: 'The sawtooth effect'
Ofqual says research into the reform of GCSEs and A levels showed that when qualifications changed, there was “generally a small dip in performance because teachers and students are less familiar with the requirements of the new specifications”, known as "the sawtooth effect”.
According to Ofqual, there had been “general agreement” between awarding organisations that comparable outcomes should be prioritised in the early awards of the reformed qualifications, “notwithstanding the potential challenges” that came with.
However, the letter says: “To prioritise comparable performance might risk students being disadvantaged due to them being in the first cohorts to sit the reformed [functional skills qualifications], and we do not think that this is fair. Our expectation, therefore, is that as a principle, any dips in performance in the early awards of reformed FSQs should be compensated for. This is to compensate for teachers and students being less familiar with the requirements of the reformed specifications, rather than to compensate for students being unprepared for the assessments."
This should apply to level 1 and 2, as well entry-level FSQs and "might mean that, in the first awards, a slightly lower level of performance is accepted at the pass threshold", says the exam regulator.
Dips are likely to be small, however, and the “sawtooth effect” typically lasted around two to three years with GCSEs and A levels, and was likely to be shorter for FSQs, according to Ofqual.
'A real mistake'
In June, Association of Colleges chief executive David Hughes said the approach taken to reforming functional skills qualifications could prove to be a “real mistake”. He said the new version of the English and maths qualifications, due to be introduced from September, looked “much more academic” than the legacy version.
Ofqual's announcement comes after exam body Pearson hit the headlines last month when it raised the grade boundaries for BTEC Tech Awards days before the results were due to be published, which meant that students could receive a grade below what they had expected.
Ofqual called the decision "regrettable" and said that the changes had led to “understandable uncertainty and frustration” for students. Pearson announced later that some students would be issued a revised grade for their BTEC Tech Awards.