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Seven things you need to know about VTQs in 2021/22

Claire Gill, Director - Strategic Relationships Vocational and Technical Qualifications, Ofqual
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How to make sure student grading is fair during a pandemic

The fairest way for students to show what they know and can do is through formal assessment and exams.

We have worked with awarding organisations, colleges, training providers and schools to put adaptations in place, adjusting for the ongoing complications of the pandemic.

Adapted assessments are how students of vocational and technical qualifications (VTQ) can expect their results to be awarded this academic year.

But what does that mean in practice?

  1. VTQs are fit for purpose

Awarding organisations know their qualifications. They want students to have a fair experience and be able to progress with a good qualification. That is why we decided to allow a range of adaptations to be put in place and to support fair assessment. This way, VTQs are fit for purpose even when there is a pandemic.

  1. Centres can make choices that work for their students and them

Centre staff have the expertise to decide what is best for a programme of learning. There are some choices they can make that help students have a fair experience.

Centres that ordinarily choose to deliver modular qualifications with assessment at the end of a course should consider whether that is appropriate this year; they might decide to do assessments throughout the year instead.

And when they are considering these options, some centres will think about the Department for Education’s decision not to limit the number of resits that are permitted for qualifications listed in performance tables. This means centres can choose to assess earlier, without putting their students at a disadvantage.

These choices may mean the path to a qualification might be different this year.

  1. Approaches to awarding results will look different

Many VTQ results will be informed by adapted assessments in 2021/22, while many VTQ students will also be carrying forward Teacher Assessed Grades (TAGs) from summer 2021 – and possibly even Centre Assessed Grades (CAGs) from summer 2020.

So approaches to results may differ between awarding organisations. This will depend on how the qualification is assessed and was assessed in summer 2021 and/or summer 2020. Some qualification will have standards aligned to those of similar subjects in GCSEs and A Levels. Some VTQs saw an increase in outcomes and higher grades during the pandemic, but that was not the case for others. Awarding organisations will take all these factors into account, to ensure learners get fair results.

  1. Students should not be better or worse off than GCSE and A level students

Whatever their age, level of VTQ or stage of learning, fairness for students is central to our decision making. Formal assessments and exams must not unfairly benefit or penalise VTQ learners. That is a commitment we have made; it is a requirement we expect awarding organisations to follow.

  1. Plans are in place, in case VTQs aren’t able to progress as we expect

The advance information for GCSEs, AS and A levels will be published no later than 7 February. The government will decide whether that information should be published earlier than this, taking into account the level of disruption to students’ education caused by the pandemic.

If that does happen, we will require awarding organisations to keep their adaptations under review. They may confirm that their existing adaptations are enough. This is all likely to depend on the nature of the VTQ and timing of the assessments. We will encourage awarding organisations to ensure that centres are notified as soon as is possible should further changes be needed.

The government is firmly committed to exams going ahead in summer 2022. But we need to have contingency plans in place for the unlikely event that students cannot sit exams and formal assessments.

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If the government decides that these cannot take place in the summer then, as in 2021, VTQs and other general qualifications will be awarded through TAGs. GCSEs and A levels will also be awarded through TAGs. The evidence for TAGs will come from the assessments VTQ learners have already taken during the year or other work. Many VTQs are modular and designed so that assessments can take place throughout the year. This means it is unlikely that there will be any additional assessments to inform the TAG.

  1. Good communication is more important than ever

The safe delivery and award of VTQs are always underpinned by good communication:

  • between the awarding organisations and the colleges, training providers and other centres
  • between awarding organisations and Ofqual as their regulator.

Keeping in touch is more important than ever for all of us this year.

If you work at a centre, and you want to change the timing or delivery of assessments, then contact your awarding organisation to make sure this is done in the right way.

This year, awarding organisations are likely to ask centres for more information about which learners are planning to take assessments, when they plan to take them and when they are likely to award certificates. Centres might find it helpful to start capturing this information as early as possible.

  1. Together, we have the expertise to make sure students carry on with confidence

The regulatory arrangements we have put in place allow awarding organisations to continue to develop and deliver VTQs in which you can be confident.

Students can be assured that awarding organisations are using their expertise to make suitable adjustments. Centres can be confident that they can work with their awarding organisation and change arrangements to suit their students. We will continue to monitor VTQs to ensure they are delivered in line with our expectations.

Together, we are taking action and making decisions to mitigate the ongoing impact of the pandemic in the fairest way so students can show what they know and can do. This means students can progress to the next stage of their lives with confidence.

Claire Gill, Director – Strategic Relationships Vocational and Technical Qualifications, Ofqual

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