The awarding body that runs BTECs has pledged to award a grade for any student who is unable to take this month’s exams and has “enough evidence to receive a certificate that they need for progression”.

Those unable to take their assessment this month may also “be able to” take it at a later date. “If that is not possible, we will put in place arrangements to ensure you are not disadvantaged,” Pearson added.

Pearson made the announcement after the Department for Education last night told colleges it would be up to them to decide whether the 135,000 students sitting vocational exams, including BTECs, this month can go ahead.

In an online statement addressed to BTEC learners, Pearson said: “We want to ensure that you and all those working in schools and colleges are supported by us regardless of the choice that is made by your school or college on whether exams take place.

“We are working closely with the DfE and Ofqual on all of this and we will share more detail with you in the coming days.

“We appreciate this must be a very difficult time for you. We hope that this update provides you with some clarity and reassurance that you will not be disadvantaged whichever decision is made by your school or college regarding exams.”

BTEC learners and college staff have been through a mire of confusion in the past few days, after the government originally announced vocational exams planned for this month would take place.

That is despite prime minister Boris Johnson telling the nation on Monday GCSE and A-level exams in the summer will not “go ahead as normal”.

Yesterday, a number of colleges concerned about the safety implications of holding exams during this fresh lockdown unilaterally decided to cancel their exams for this month.

This included Loughborough College, which announced yesterday it would postpone their exams due to a local surge in Covid-19 cases as well as a number of students coming in from outside the area to take exams, and The Sheffield College which said it would cancel and rearrange exams “to ensure that these can be held safely”.

In response to the DfE pushing ahead, Labour’s shadow apprenticeships minister Toby Perkins said the exams “cannot go ahead safely and fairly this week,” while the Federation of Awarding Bodies chief executive Tom Bewick wrote to skills minister Gillian Keegan: “We do not feel the ambition of going ahead with the January series is realistic in the circumstances.”

Late last night, the DfE backtracked with the statement allowing colleges to decide whether to hold exams; however, this also triggered outrage in the sector, with Association of Colleges chief executive David Hughes saying it risks “continuing the confusion, leading 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”.