From education to employment

Monitoring the awarding of VTQS in 2021

Emma Scott, Director of Operations, Vocational and Technical Qualifications, Ofqual

In a previous article for FE News, my colleague Catherine Large explained how Ofqual has introduced an exceptional regulatory framework to support the awarding of the 15,000 vocational and technical qualifications (VTQs) in the current challenging circumstances.

Training providers, colleges and schools will now be working hard to collate, consider and record the information they will use to make judgements about every learner’s performance, as awarding organisations start to roll out their plans to deliver the 5 million results that learners are expecting.

Our role is to ensure the arrangements put in place by awarding organisations are appropriate, manageable and deliver sufficiently valid and reliable results. We want to see that results being issued to learners are based on performance evidence and that consistent approaches are being taken across similar qualifications.

Like most regulators, we take a risk-based approach to regulation, and focus the majority of our efforts on prevention.

Firstly, we review the capability and capacity of the awarding organisations to deliver the qualifications they offer.

Secondly, we consider how best to mitigate the particular risks and challenges posed by different qualifications.

And thirdly, we look across the qualification landscape or at particular sectors to address common or systemic risks or issues, usually where we need awarding organisations to put in place a coordinated response.

Monitoring awarding organisations

Lots of factors will affect an awarding organisation’s ability to deliver assessments and award accurate results on time. They need to have sufficient expert resources to support the delivery of their qualifications. They need to be able to interpret regulatory frameworks, rules and guidance properly. They need to communicate and provide appropriate support to their centres, and they also need to collect and retain sufficient data and records to support their activities.

Two-thirds of all VTQ certificates (around three million) are awarded by a small number of awarding organisations. So, this year we have put in place a targeted monitoring programme focused on these. We will meet each of them to assess their readiness to deliver; and explore their governance, risk management, capacity, contractual arrangements and overall approach to awarding. We will track their progress through information and data requests and by holding focused conversations. We then plan to evaluate their performance through audits or by requiring them to conduct self-evaluations.

We support and regulate the remaining awarding organisations by providing information, guidance, workshops and webinars to check they understand and interpret our regulations correctly. We have a data forum to discuss and agree the data we will collect from them to monitor results progress. We also write to them to set out any specific risks or issues we expect them to manage or to provide particular sources of guidance or support.

All awarding organisations must tell us if anything happens that could negatively impact learners, standards or public confidence.

On the rare occasions we take enforcement action, it is usually because it is necessary for us to intervene quickly or perhaps because an awarding organisation has not acted quickly or effectively to correct or mitigate any negative impact.

Monitoring qualifications

Our second area of focus is on the distinct delivery risks posed by different qualifications. Some qualifications are taken by a large number of learners in a variety of settings such as Functional Skills, or are used for progression and feature in college and school performance tables. Other qualifications confer occupational competence or are needed for particular job roles or to satisfy visa requirements such as ESOL qualifications.

This year, to encourage a consistent approach to adaption and awarding, we have facilitated a number of working groups for awarding organisations offering similar qualifications.

Subsequently, we have sampled the way in which some awarding organisations have adapted their qualifications and the approaches they are putting in pace to award results on the basis of Teacher Assessed Grades (TAGs). We have published the “2021 Qualifications Explainer Tool” which can be used to find out how a specific qualification will be awarded this year.

Where we identify concerns about an awarding organisation’s approach, or where there is a lack of clarity around what is being proposed, we give them feedback and may ask for further updates. If necessary, we can issue an awarding organisation with a Technical Advice Notice to formalise any concerns we have. An awarding organisation must have regard to any Technical Advice Notice and tell us what it is doing to address those concerns.

We also work closely with other government departments and stakeholders to address potential issues, to communicate joint initiatives, and to facilitate customised solutions.

Focus on particular themes or sector areas

Finally, there are some common themes and particular sectors we will continue to monitor in the context of COVID-19.

In the context of preventing malpractice, we have identified some assessment methods or sector areas where the risk of malpractice is higher. We discuss with awarding organisations how they are managing those risks, and in some instances have published specific guidance. We are collecting more data to understand the type and scale of malpractice in VTQ, and we are continuing our work to raise counter-fraud awareness amongst awarding organisations.

We are also taking steps to understand and overcome challenges posed by remote assessment and invigilation and published a blog on practice in this area. We have issued guidance to help awarding organisations implement adaptations of this kind safely. We will follow up later in 2021 to review how successful remote delivery of assessments has been.

We have invited sector agencies to contribute to the Covid-19 response by working with relevant awarding organisations to identify sector specific adaptation limitations and considerations. We have also engaged with certain sectors to understand the challenges posed and to improve understanding of our approach. For example, we have attended awarding body forums hosted by the construction industry’s standard setting body (CITB) to talk about the principles of awarding in 2021 in the context of adaptations to construction qualifications.

By taking this multi-faceted approach to monitoring awarding organisations’ arrangements throughout the year we can check that any issues are addressed early, and that learners are able to progress to the next stage of their working or educational lives. Ultimately, learners taking VTQs should not be disadvantaged either by the impact of the pandemic, or when compared to their peers taking other qualifications, including GCSEs, AS, and A levels. 

Emma Scott, Director of Operations, Vocational and Technical Qualifications, Ofqual

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