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Schools and colleges can run January vocational and technical exams if they judge it right to do so, say DfE

Public exams and vocational assessments scheduled to take place in January can still go ahead as planned, at the discretion of the School or College, @EducationGovUK have announced this evening (5 Jan). 

@BorisJohnson yesterday evening (4 Jan) announced new national restrictions which include the closure of school and college buildings, except to the children of key workers and vulnerable children.

The new plans from the government will see primary school, secondary school and college buildings closed for the majority of pupils until February.

In the circumstances, DfE do not think it is possible for all exams in the summer to go ahead as planned, and will accordingly be working with Ofqual to consult rapidly to put in place alternative arrangements that will allow students to progress fairly.

DfE statement on January vocational and technical qualifications exams and assessments 

A DfE spokesperson said:

“In light of the evolving public health measures, schools and colleges can continue with the vocational and technical exams that are due to take place in January, where they judge it right to do so.

“We understand this is a difficult time but we want to support schools and colleges whose students have worked hard to prepare for assessments and exams where necessary. This may be particularly important for VTQs which require a ‘license to practice’ which can only be fulfilled through practical assessment, such as an electrician.”

“Schools and colleges have already implemented extensive protective measures to make them as safe as possible. We will continue to work with Ofqual, awarding organisations and other stakeholders to discuss the next steps and provide more detail on the way forward, including ensuring other students have a way to progress with as little disruption as possible.”

Sector Response to DfE’s statement on the January 2021 vocational and technical exams

tom bewick100x100Tom Bewick, Chief Executive of the Federation of Awarding Bodies (FAB) said:

“FAB is bemused by this latest announcement. Placing the onus on sector leaders to make these important decisions about whether or not to go ahead with the January exam series during a national lockdown is nonsensical and wrong headed. Students are confused. The government’s overriding public health message is one of ‘stay at home.’ Even if exams could take place in Covid secure surroundings, it will still not address how individuals, including assessors and staff, will feel about taking part. 

“The government was emphatic that the summer series exams should be cancelled. They should do the same for all the examinations over the next 6 months. The chief regulator should work with the sector to put robust alternative arrangements in place. Many solutions already exist.

“Let’s see how long this latest policy U-turn lasts once it comes into contact with operational reality.” 

Andy Burnham Mayor of Greater Manchester and Steve Rotheram Mayor of the Liverpool City Region 100x100In a joint statement, Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester and Steve Rotheram, Mayor of the Liverpool City Region, said:

“OVER the past 24 hours we have been contacted by students, college leaders, headteachers and parents who are confused and alarmed that the Government announced a full national lockdown – including school and college closures – while maintaining that BTEC exams should continue as planned in January. 

“As Mayors of regions that have been under restrictions for significant periods of time, we know only too well the challenges that our schools and colleges have faced in delivering teaching, while having to cope with repeated disruption as a result of coronavirus outbreaks.

“It is unfair to ask these students to go into colleges when everyone else is being told to stay at home and schools and colleges are closed to the majority of students. This will cause unnecessary anxiety and concern just when they need to be able to focus. 

“Secondly, students in the Liverpool and Greater Manchester City Regions have faced restrictions for far longer, with more time being spent out of college, than students in other parts of the country, therefore these exams will not be a level playing field. 

“These exams involve 130,000 students across the country and the whole of the FE sector is concerned that allowing them to go ahead not only puts staff and students at risk, but once again demonstrates the continued lack of parity for BTEC students compared with those sitting A Levels and GCSES, and the divide that remains between vocational and academic education. 

“BTECs are more likely to be studied by those from working-class backgrounds and ethnic minority communities – groups which are already more vulnerable in terms of their life outcomes, including health inequalities. BTECs and other vocational qualifications are also key to supporting progression into higher education from areas – particularly in the North – that tend to be cold spots for university recruitment. 

“To not treat these students on a par with their peers studying an academic route would be a double injustice. 

“We do not believe it is right to go ahead with these exams when others have been cancelled and we urge the government to listen to the concerns of college leaders from our city-regions, and across the country who are concerned about the fairness and practically of pressing ahead. 

“Therefore, if Ministers are unwilling to listen to the sector and continue with exams regardless, then they must put in place measures – including the weighting of results – to ensure that no student is disadvantaged by having to sit exams during a period of national lockdown.”

“Allow teacher predicted grades for BTEC students” petition will be debated in Parliment

The University and College Union (UCU) has also today (5 Jan) called for all vocational exams to be cancelled immediately alongside proposals not to go ahead with GCSEs and A levels. 

The call comes as the Westminster government announced another national lockdown in England and imposed continued remote learning in further education colleges. 

A petition on the subject, “Allow teacher predicted grades for BTEC students” is already at over 125,000 signatures. Parliament automatically considers all petitions that get more than 100,000 signatures for debate.

UCU head of Further Education Andrew Harden, said:

“If college campuses in England are not safe to the extent that remote learning will be in place until at least February then this government cannot justify asking staff and students to travel this week to institutions to sit exams. Staff and students will rightly be asking why summer exams are likely to be cancelled but those taking place now during a full national lockdown can go ahead.

“The government must give staff and students clarity and ensure a fair approach to grading using a different system such as teacher assessment. BTEC students faced a shambolic mess in 2020 with delays to results and it’s clear that once again they are an afterthought for this government. Staff and student safety must be the priority.”

Labour says the government must cancel BTEC exams and work with schools and colleges to develop a genuinely fair alternative as part of changes to summer exams 

Despite schools and colleges being closed throughout the national lockdown, BTEC and vocational and technical exams are due to be taking place this week. Colleges and sector representatives are warning that they cannot go ahead fairly or safely for students, with some colleges having already taken the decision to cancel exams for their students. 

The government has made no adaptations to these exams despite many students having experienced disrupted learning due to periods of self-isolation. Colleges have also had to make adaptations, such as the introduction of rotas, in order to make practical teaching Covid-19 secure, meaning many pupils have had less practical teaching than would be expected.

Despite setting out plans for exams due to take place in the summer term, the government has set out no support for the 135,000 students taking exams nor for colleges to cover additional costs such more space to enable social distancing and cleaning of exam halls.

Toby Perkins 100x100Toby Perkins MP, Shadow Minister for Apprenticeships and Lifelong Learning, said:

“BTEC exams simply cannot go ahead safely and fairly this week. The government must cancel them and work with schools and colleges to develop a genuinely fair alternative for pupils this summer.

“When the Prime Minister announced the cancellation of summer GCSE and A-level exams, he did not even mention BTEC students taking exams this week.

“Once again BTEC students who have missed out on lots of core practical teaching this year are an afterthought for this government.”

Government must cancel January #vocational exams with no delay to protect students, say AoC 

david hughes 100 x100

David Hughes, Chief Executive, Association of Colleges, said his letter to Gillian Keegan:

“Asking college staff and students to ignore that message to sit exams is simply untenable. It is patently not safe for them and their families, even with the best mitigations a college can put in place.

“To go ahead with this exam series now would also be unfair on students. The stress of the pandemic will undoubtedly affect their performance, probably has affected their preparation, and could lead to results which are potentially very unfair. On top of that, the different treatment of these VTQ students compared with their peers sitting GQs in the summer feels wrong and hard to defend.”

Association of Colleges’ Chief Executive, David Hughes has today (5 Jan) written to Gillian Keegan, Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills calling for an immediate rethink on the decision to go ahead with this month’s vocational exam series. Vocational and Technical exams begin today, despite the government’s announcement last night to put the country into a third national lockdown and move learning online for the majority of students. 

The instruction to schools and colleges is to provide remote learning for everyone apart from vulnerable children and the children of key workers (where these two groups cannot stay at home). 

The letter (see below) sets out the reasons AoC believes that exams should be cancelled, recognising the difficulties for students, parents and colleges. 

AoC letter in full:

Dear Gillian

Vocational & Technical examinations and assessments in January 

I am writing to ask you to make an urgent decision to cancel the January exam series which begins this week for hundreds of thousands of students in colleges and in schools.

The Prime Minister’s clear and stark message to the nation last night will have driven home the need for all of us to ‘stay at home’ to defeat this virus. Asking college staff and students to ignore that message to sit exams is simply untenable. It is patently not safe for them and their families, even with the best mitigations a college can put in place.

To go ahead with this exam series now would also be unfair on students. The stress of the pandemic will undoubtedly affect their performance, probably has affected their preparation, and could lead to results which are potentially very unfair. On top of that, the different treatment of these VTQ students compared with their peers sitting GQs in the summer feels wrong and hard to defend.

There is a third pragmatic reason why I think you should cancel these exams; many colleges and schools will struggle to find staff willing to invigilate and manage the sittings. We know that lots of colleges rely on volunteer invigilators, many of whom are retired and therefore vulnerable. College leaders are very reluctant to ask them and their staff to put themselves at risk, and many have already made it clear that
they will not invigilate.

I recognise that cancelling at this late stage is a difficult decision, but I am certain from the outrage and strength of feeling I heard overnight from college leaders and students, that the decision would be widely welcomed. We stand ready to support you in any way that we can to help communicate and explain the reasoning.

We also are ready to support the work needed with DfE, Ofqual and the AOs to ensure that grades can be awarded, based largely on banked assessments. I understand that the AOs already have contingency plans to implement which can provide early assurance to students worried about how their grades will be assessed.

There are many other issues which we will want to discuss in the coming weeks, and I am preparing a letter setting them out which I aim to send to you before the end of this week. For now, though, I wanted to ask for your urgent attention and quick decision to end the stress and provide some certainty to hundreds of thousands of students.

I would, of course, be more than happy to discuss this with if that would be helpful and I am copying this letter to a range of people, listed below.

Yours sincerely,

David Hughes, Chief Executive, Association of Colleges

Simon Lebus, Ian Bauckham, Lucy Sydney, Ofqual
Paul Kett, Gillian Hillier, DfE
Kate Green
Toby Perkins
Robert Halfon
Tom Bewick, FAB
Cindy Rampersaud, Pearson
Jill Duffy, OCR

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