Response to Pearson’s decision to change the grading criteria of some of its Level 1 / 2 awards

Students will receive their Level 1 / 2 BTEC awards on Wednesday this week. These are new versions of qualifications that are being awarded for the first time this year.

Pearson found during its awarding process that learners’ outcomes were significantly higher, and grading was more generous across the cohort, than it had predicted on the basis of students’ prior attainment. As a result, Pearson decided to make adjustments to most of its grading points.

Pearson made Ofqual aware of this situation and its response in early August. It is always challenging with new specifications to know precisely how the assessments will function and how students will perform on them. It is therefore regrettable that Pearson set out definitive grading points in its specification, and Ofqual have seen that changing these has led to understandable uncertainty and frustration.

Ofqual's priority is securing that appropriate standards are set, being fair to all students who have taken these qualifications this year, in previous years and in years to come. On the basis of the evidence Ofqual have seen, the action Pearson has taken to set standards has been appropriate at the overall, cohort level. However, the decision to publish grading points in their specification may have led some teachers and students to take different decisions than they might otherwise have done.

It is understandable that students, schools and colleges will be concerned about how these changes may impact them. If students or teachers have questions or concerns now, or after receiving their results, they should seek support from Pearson, which is providing information and advice.

There are significant lessons to be learned by all awarding organisations about the commitments they make in their specifications and associated materials, and how they communicate with schools and colleges when issues arise. Ofqual will be reflecting on these issues further after results are published.

Commenting on changes to the points required for grades in BTEC Tech Award qualifications, Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said:

“Our understanding is that the grade boundaries for BTEC Tech Awards have been changed because the number of grades at the top end exceeded what had been anticipated and that this is seen as undermining the validity of the qualification. The grade boundaries have therefore been raised.

“This means that students will receive grades that are lower than they expected to receive and this is an extremely disappointing situation. The goalposts have been moved and pupils and their teachers have every right to feel badly let down, particularly pupils who took assessments in February and could have retaken this element.

“We understand that these are new qualifications and the original grade boundaries were based upon modelling that took place in this context. However, we are concerned that this modelling was significantly awry. It also seems that neither centres nor candidates were advised that the original grade boundaries were indicative and that they could change.

“It is our view that the original grade boundaries should be honoured for this year, and we will be seeking urgent talks with the exam board, Ofqual and the Department for Education accordingly.”

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