Officials from Pearson, OCR and Ofqual faced questions on the scale of the delays, the impact this had on learners and their university places, as well as what action is being taken to ensure the fiasco does not repeat itself next year.
Giving evidence was Mike Howells (pictured right), the president for workforce skills at Pearson UK which offers BTECs, Jill Duffy (pictured left), the chief executive of OCR that awards CTECs, as well as Ofqual chief regulator Jo Saxton (pictured centre right) and Association of Colleges chief executive David Hughes (pictured centre left).
Here’s what we learned…
- Over 13,000 results were delayed – five times more than in a normal year
Pearson and OCR were accused of failing to be fully transparent about the scale of missing grades during the delays debacle.
Committee chair Robert Halfon described the process and communication as “shambolic” which “left vocational students yet again feeling like second class citizens”.
It was revealed today that there were 7,000 level 2 BTEC results delays, an additional 3,300 level 3 BTECs, and a further 3,200 CTECs.
A Pearson spokesperson said in August this number of delays was “typical for this stage in the awarding process and tracks against what we saw in pre-pandemic exam years”.
But Duffy told MPs today that the scale of late results was “probably four or five times what we would see in a normal year”.
Howells echoed Duffy’s comment and said the Pearson spokesperson at the time “was explaining that if you track historical trends in data, and in particular when we receive requests for grades from schools and colleges, and when we receive information to show students have completed their work… that data was showing ‘typical’ trends”.
Hughes said it was “disrespectful to those students not to come out immediately and apologise, immediately and give the numbers, immediately and tell people what they were going to do”.
Both Pearson and OCR bosses apologised for the added stress and anxiety the delays caused students, parents and colleges.
- Issues only came to light the day before results day
Committee chair Robert Halfon claimed that exam boards knew about the delays as early as July. But both Howells and Duffy revealed that their awarding bodies only became aware of the issues on August 17, the day before results day.
Duffy said: “What we were noticing was not more calls into our customer support centre but they were taking longer to resolve and this continued into results day.”
- Covid adaptations were the main cause for large-scale delays
Awarding bodies were allowed to include adaptations to vocational and technical qualifications to take into account the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, similar to GCSEs and A-levels.
Pearson and OCR said the adaptations added to the already complex nature of their vocational qualifications which led to more issues than normal.
Duffy said: “CTECs are unit-based qualifications so we rely on schools and colleges claiming for a unit. We had a range of pandemic adaptations this year that a school or college could apply for, such as a reduction in assessment, unit teacher assessed grades from previous years and assessed grades if students were unable to sit their exams in January.
“What all this meant was schools and colleges needed to tell us about all of this, tell us about these units, and then the qualification grade is automatically produced around results day. The issue we had here was pandemic adaptations we brought in for the very best of intentions, so it was more complex this year and we knew we had a problem the day before results day.”
Howells added: “It is essentially the same process for Pearson and we took the same steps as OCR.
- No students missed out on a university place, but one was delayed by six months
Both Howells and Duffy said they were not aware of any student that didn’t get their university place because of a delay to their results.
However, Howells said that Pearson did assist a couple of BTEC learners through clearing and one of them had their university place delayed by six months as a result of the delay.
- Chief regulator ‘shocked to the core’
Saxton, who became Ofqual chief regulator in September 2021, said the results delays “absolutely shocked me to the core”.
“On my watch I will do everything in my power to make sure that students are protected from similar stress again,” she told MPs.
Saxton said this is why she has commissioned the “widest scale review of its kind” including an “unprecedented call to both the sector and students to ask for a wider evidence picture” to fully understand their experiences “so that we can make recommendations to make changes”.
Ofqual is expected to publish the review before the end of 2022.
- OCR and Pearson conducting their own reviews
Duffy said OCR is conducting its own CTEC delay review, expected to conclude in November, while Howells said Pearson’s own review into BTEC delays will be completed before the end of 2022.
Both said they would share the findings with the education select committee, and both confirmed to FE Week their recommendations from the reviews will be made public.
Howells said there are three findings that have already emerged from Pearson’s review.
“The first is around communications and our support to schools and colleges, making sure the information and assistance we can and do provide to them is as effective as it can be in helping them manage some of the challenges they are going through,” he said.
“Secondly, the process and deadlines. I think we have shown too much flexibility particularly during the pandemic in supporting late submission of data. We need to improve and work on and look at different kinds of deadlines.
“And lastly, clarity around the data itself. One of the important things to remember about VTQs is that the idea of a results day is a relatively recent concept. People can roll on and roll off these qualifications at any point in the year, many students complete at a point of their choosing depending on their circumstances. One of the great successes of VTQs is producing a new route into higher education se we have worked very hard to make sure results are available for them to do that on results day. So reconciling those two different approaches in the data, working in partnership with schools and colleges, is something that we need to do.”
Duffy said OCR is also looking to improve on data sharing with schools and colleges to ensure they can track students’ progress throughout the year and so that OCR can identify those with issues at an earlier stage than results day.
She added that there should be an earlier results day for CTECs to give schools and colleges a “safety net to check they are getting their results”.
Duffy said: “We did have an earlier results day before the pandemic and then it was aligned with the general qualification results day during the pandemic. I think it is time to look at giving the results out a week earlier under embargo a week earlier for that safety net so that schools and colleges can check.”