A college in Kent has already supported around 500 students to sit their exams this week after receiving “overwhelming feedback” from students who were keen to attend.
The government said on Monday that all BTEC and other technical exams would still go ahead this month despite the new national lockdown restriction, before backtracking a day later and placing the onus on colleges to decide whether or not they run.
East Kent College (EKC) Group told their students it was up to them if they attended and achieved an average turnout of around 80 per cent so far this week.
Education secretary Gavin Williamson said he chose to give leaders the flexibility to continue with the assessments as there are “a lot of young people who will need to complete their professional competency qualifications in order to take up work and job opportunities” and it was important to “keep that door open”.
But many colleges across England have since cancelled the exams amid safety fears.
EKC Group, which is in one of the worst hit areas of the country in terms of coronavirus cases, said that they “believe that we are able to offer these examinations safely and the overwhelming feedback from students is that they would like the opportunity to sit their examinations”.
“Therefore, we will continue to offer the examinations as planned. It will be an individual students choice as to whether they wish to sit the examination,” a statement from the college continue.
For those who choose not to sit the exams, the college has pledged to do “everything to ensure that future opportunities for sitting the examination are made available” and that “alternatively, the government may offer alternative forms of assessment”.
A spokesperson echoed Williamson’s view that it was important to allow students, who have been preparing for the exams for years in some cases, the opportunity to sit them to progress.
London South East Colleges, which has campuses across the capital and is also in a Covid-19 hotspot area, has made the same decision. Deputy chief executive David Lambert told FE Week the college group has had a 50 to 60 per cent turnout today – its first day of exams. Around 800 exams are scheduled to take place over the coming weeks.
In a letter to students, the college said: “After very detailed consideration, we have decided to let our students have a choice.
“We know how hard so many of you have worked for these exams, that you will be disappointed not to take them and that you would like the exams to take place.”
The letter continued: “We also know that many of you may feel anxious about attending on campus at this time.
“We know that some of you have vulnerable family members whom you want to protect, and others have had interrupted learning through needing to self-isolate in the past term.
“Therefore, to meet the needs of as many students as possible, we have decided that we will allow the exams to go ahead for those students who would like the opportunity to take them.”
Weston College, based in Weston-Super-Mare, has taken a similar approach.
“As a college we recognise that learners have worked really hard to prepare for their exams and will be anxious about this situation and the late change in guidance from the government,” a spokesperson said.
“We also appreciate that some learners are reliant on completing exams to secure licence to practice status or a professional status that is important to their career or advancement in work. Where our learners are able and want to take the exam they have prepared for, we will allow them the opportunity to do so. The college will therefore continue with the agreed timetable of exams in January.”
The college added that each learner will “know best their own individual situations, and will know how they personally feel about sitting their exam” so if any student “does not feel able to come into college, the college will support this decision and ensure that they are supported to complete the assessment at an alternative time or through any adaptive assessment protocols that may be put in place by the Ofqual and the awarding bodies in response to the pandemic”.
FE Week asked the college what the turnout had been like for the exams that had already taken place this week, but the college did not respond at the time of going to press.