The government’s decision to allow providers, rather awarding organisation assessments, to determine which of their learners have passed functional skills and other vocational is an enormous relief, says Mark Dawe.

What great news before Easter from Ofqual – our first Easter Bunny spreading cheer.  Calculating results based in part on teacher, trainer or tutor judgements is sensible, positive and fair.  While the functional skills teacher assessment is probably the headline for the sector, there are many other qualifications that the sector uses across the funding streams, including those qualifications embedded in apprenticeships, where the various flexible approaches will apply. 

There may be a wait until we know for these other qualifications whether it will be teachers’ assessment by adapting existing assessment methods, but in the meantime it’s an enormous relief that the independent training provider’s students won’t be disadvantaged compared to their general qualification peers.

As I’ve said before, assessment is an art not a science; it is never perfect and there is always more than option to consider.  We are not going back to the “bad old days” of tutor assessment which as a former exam board leader, I don’t recognise as true anyway.  Tutor assessment is a key plank in many current competency based qualifications and is a critical element in assessing competence.

Let’s be fair to Ofqual in terms of the challenge they faced in making this decision.  They would never have approved teacher assessment for GCSEs and A levels unless they had been forced to by circumstance.  Their starting point was to find the best solution given the circumstances and the goal.  

AELP was initially the only sector body calling for flexibility for functional skills assessment and our rationale was simply following logic.  Functional skills tutors, particularly where functional skills are done alongside an apprenticeship or vocational programme and where the vocational tutor will have an input as well, will have done an initial assessment and will have been logging competency as they go along.  Indeed part of the Ofsted requirement now is to ensure the learner has learnt.  So they will have a very good idea when a student is competent. 

As for End Point Assessments (EPAs) and other qualifications, we believe again that this is the right approach.  Ofqual have said to AELP that as well as adapting existing forms of assessment, providers can propose to them for approval alternative assessments that give an equally valid and reliable result, recognising the constraints we are all working under. 

On observations, we are not for one minute saying we are looking to remove independent assessment, but there are different approaches that are as valid, especially during these challenging times.  As well as the other EPAs that will still take place, we should consider replacing the observation with a combination of:

  • employer statements and interviews
  • provider statements and interviews
  • any recording of progress during the apprenticeship that every provider will have (remember the Ofsted requirement to record that the learner has learnt against the standard) or portfolio that has gathered by the apprentice and
  • extend the professional discussion that involves everyone to check the statements as reliable and valid.

Again this may not be perfect, but we are not living through a time where we can have 100% perfection and we are in danger of letting a generation of apprentices and employers down and causing as much damage as we would have if GCSE and A level students hadn’t received their results this summer.  The haves and the have nots!

We still need a quick announcement alongside today’s to get the legacy functional skills deadline extended and to drop the upskilling requirement for level 2 apprenticeships.  Another helpful bit of flexibility would be to let an apprentice through gateway and do their EPA before completing functional skills and any mandatory qualification where necessary.  This is because the process of teacher assessment might take some time when the individual could otherwise be doing their EPA.

Ofqual have reached a balanced conclusion on grading and assessing vocational qualifications.  It certainly looks fair compared with what has already been done for school exams.