From education to employment

Ofqual reviews the delivery and award of vocational and technical qualifications in 2022

Person holding a black folder

review of the steps Ofqual took to oversee the delivery and award of VTQs from 2021 to 2022 and Ofqual’s regulation of apprenticeship EPAs from April 2021 to August 2022.


The academic year 2021 to 2022 marked a return to large-scale exams and formal assessments in vocational and technical qualifications (VTQs) and other general qualifications for the first time since 2019. This was also a period where Ofqual’s responsibility for apprenticeship end-point assessment (EPAs) grew significantly as the majority of EPAs transitioned into the safety of regulation.

Government expected exams and formal assessments for VTQs to go ahead in this period as the fairest way of providing results for students. The government recognised, however, that students who would be taking exams and assessments had experienced significant disruption to their education and that these students may have also needed continued support in the face of any further disruption.

Ofqual worked with the Department for Education (DfE) to launch a joint consultation on the arrangements for the assessment and awarding of VTQs and other general qualifications in the academic year 2021 to 2022. Following this consultation, DfE confirmed its policy position that exams and other assessments should go ahead. Ofqual confirmed details of its rules, the Vocational and Technical Qualifications Contingency Regulatory Framework (VCRF), which gave awarding organisations flexibility to successfully award hundreds of thousands of VTQ certificates during 2021 to 2022.

The VCRF applied to all qualifications except for GCSE, AS, and A level qualifications, AEA, Project qualifications and EPAs. It required awarding organisations to only award qualifications based on evidence from exams and other formal assessments taken after 1 September 2021 but permitted them to make adaptations to their qualifications and assessments, and to carry forward any adaptations from academic year 2020 to 2021 where they were still necessary and appropriate.

With the agreement of the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE), awarding organisations were able to put in place flexible approaches to apprenticeship EPAs during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. From 1 April 2022 those flexibilities were governed by IfATE’s flexibility framework. Ofqual released guidance to all awarding organisations delivering EPA to clarify how the flexibility framework aligned with the regulation of EPAs.

The delivery of all exams and assessments was possible because of the substantial effort of everyone involved. In most cases, awarding organisations swiftly implemented adaptations to mitigate the disruption caused by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic to teaching and learning, provided appropriate support to training providers, teachers and exams officers, and issued valid and reliable results to enable students and apprentices to progress. Teachers and support staff helped the smooth delivery and adaptation of exams and assessments, and students and apprentices demonstrated incredible resilience and commitment to learning and assessment during the pandemic.

This report is in two parts. It describes the steps Ofqual took to oversee awarding organisations’ delivery and award of qualifications in the year 2021 to 2022. It also describes Ofqual’s approach to the regulation of apprenticeship EPAs from April 2021 to August 2022 and brings regulation of EPAs into alignment with all other VTQs. As with any delivery of assessments, there were issues to manage. This report describes some of the issues that occurred across the full breadth of the VTQ and EPA landscape and how Ofqual and awarding organisations responded to them.

Individual awarding organisations are responsible for the safe delivery of their qualifications. Awarding organisations had to manage and report to Ofqual any issues that arose in the delivery and award of their qualifications. Ofqual monitors the actions awarding organisations take and intervenes where it is necessary to ensure fairness for students and apprentices, or to protect standards and public confidence.

Two particular issues stood out in summer 2022.

First, just under 21,000 results were missing or incorrect on the respective results days for level 3 (18 August) and level 2 (25 August) VTQs. Our priority in August was making sure those results were corrected and issued quickly so that students could progress to further or higher education. We then launched a review and an investigation into the systems and processes used by 2 of the awarding organisations: Pearson and OCR. That work is ongoing, but we have already committed to a number of actions we are taking to protect against late results in 2023. The data findings on late and inaccurate results are contained in this report. Our analysis of the root causes behind the late and inaccurate results of 2022 will be published in 2023, alongside recommendations for further streamlining and efficiency in the delivery of awarding VTQs.

Second, there were problems with the quality of the core assessments in the Technical Qualification (TQ) for the new T Levels in Health and Science. Students received revised results for their core assessment, based on the higher of their issued overall core grade or the grade for their employer-set project. We have already taken action against the awarding organisation, NCFE, and we continue to monitor the situation closely.

After results are successfully issued, Ofqual evaluates the root causes of each issue that occurred during delivery, its impact and how effectively it was managed. Ofqual decides if any regulatory response is necessary. Specific issues are followed up with individual awarding organisations and the focus of ongoing monitoring is determined. Where appropriate, we conduct additional work to understand how to minimise the likelihood of certain types of issue from reoccurring.

Read the research and analysis here.

Sector Response

David Hughes, AoC Chief Executive said:

“Delayed results for some Pearson and OCR vocational technical qualifications in summer 2022 caused a lot of anxiety and stress for students, especially those waiting on results to progress to university, further study, or employment.

“We are pleased to see that both organisations and Ofqual as the exams regulator recognised the seriousness of the situation and have each carried out open and wide-reaching reviews of practice and circumstances which led to this summer’s challenges. Implementing the recommendations should help minimise the risk of delayed results next year and beyond. 

“We welcome the recommendations put forward by Pearson and OCR and Ofqual’s summer 2023 action plan which will go a long way to answer college concerns and ensure that students get their results when they are expecting them.

“Ofqual’s action plan reflects many of our asks, including earlier release of results to colleges, more AO checkpoints, a one-stop shop for awarding organisation communications and regular dialogue to ensure the system works for students.”

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