The Department for Education has said this evening that schools and colleges can now cancel BTEC assessments due to take place this month, but has left it up to leaders to decide.

After last night’s announcement to close schools and colleges and cancel this summer’s exams, the department insisted that vocational exams due to take place in January would still go ahead.

But the DfE backtracked today, saying: “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.”

When pressed on this, a spokesperson confirmed this meant schools and colleges now don’t have to run the exams and that they would consult with the sector on how to “make sure no student is disadvantaged”.

The spokesperson added: “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.”

It comes after a number of colleges, such as in Harlow, Sheffield, Leeds and Loughborough, announced earlier today they would be cancelling exams at their campuses in order to keep staff and students safe in the face of the government’s position.

Exam boards had called for the exams to be cancelled.

David Hughes, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said the government response will “disappoint the thousands of students as well as staff” across the country who have “shown how worried they are about sitting exams this month”.

“The risk is that this continues the confusion, leads to more uncertainty for every student and puts thousands of young people and their families at risk as well as the college staff managing the exams.

“It has no message for students in colleges which do cancel for safety reasons and does not reflect the issue of fairness between vocational and technical students with their peers taking A-levels and GCSEs.”