City and Guilds fined £200k for regulatory breaches

Ofqual found multiple 'errors' related to assessment materials and results

Ofqual found multiple 'errors' related to assessment materials and results

22 Mar 2024, 13:21

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An awarding giant has been fined £200,000 for repeated “errors” in its exam materials and failing in its duty to notify regulators of problems in good time.

In a notice published this morning, exam regulator Ofqual said an investigation into City and Guilds last year uncovered a series of errors with its assessments.

The regulator looked at 75 incidents between April 2022 and May 2023 and found that the awarding body had failed to quickly report some issues, with delays of six months or more in some cases.

Awarding organisations are required to tell Ofqual about incidents which may have an adverse effect on the delivery of qualifications or assessments under their conditions of registration with the regulator. Failure to do so is considered a breach.

Overall, Ofqual found 28 errors with exam papers and online examination materials, 16 issues with delivering the exams and 13 issues with results or certificates issued to learners.

A “significant aggravating factor” for Ofqual was that many of the errors related to issues City and Guilds promised to fix three years ago after admitting “delivery failures” in its animal management qualifications in 2018/19.

Ofqual said an action plan agreed after those failures was “not successful” in preventing the more recent errors, which were “similar in nature”.

The regulator said: “There are indications that City & Guilds did not effectively review its approach to the development, delivery, and award of qualifications when producing the action plan in 2019 and since.”

Third fine for the awarding giant

The £200,000 fine is the third and largest City and Guilds has received from the exam regulator.

It has also agreed to cover Ofqual’s “reasonable” legal costs, which are yet to be confirmed.

Following City and Guilds’ 2018/19 delivery failures, Ofqual issued a £50,000 fine and asked it to pay £8,558 in legal costs.

Ofqual issued its first-ever financial penalty – a £38,000 fine plus £9,000 in legal costs – to the awarding body in 2016 over the late issuing of 22,000 results.

An additional aggravating factor was that each of the previous fines for regulatory failures included a “failure to promptly notify Ofqual of relevant events”, the notice said.

Over 20 conditions of recognition, rules exam boards must follow, were found to have been breached by City and Guilds.

Mitigation accepted by enforcement committee

In mitigation, the regulator accepted that City and Guilds developed its 2019 action plan in “good faith”, even if it was not based on a “sufficiently deep root cause analysis”.

The notice said: “In each incident, City and Guilds has acted with integrity and with the interests of the learners at the forefront ensuring that thorough incident management has been implemented to minimise the effect on learners.”

Ofqual’s enforcement committee agreed that the length of time the issues have occurred is “in part due to the impact of the pandemic”, which diverted most of the awarding body’s resources towards “alternative assessment and certification models”.

City and Guilds has since put in place a £1 million “awarding organisation transformation programme” as well as “short-term improvement actions” in the last 18 months.

Key changes to its operations reportedly include a new responsible officer, strengthened governance, new heads of assessment and development, investment in specialist software and a new quality management strategy.

Ofqual also recognised that in the last two years of spring and summer exams there have been “very limited issues” with its results.

Ian Bauckham, chief regulator at Ofqual, said: “City and Guilds have co-operated from the beginning and their latest improvement plan promises to be strong. An improved approach, along with the fine, should allow everyone to draw a line under these issues and go forward with a renewed sense of confidence.”

A spokesperson for City and Guilds said it is pleased to successfully issue around 650,000 qualification results every year in England.

They added: “Whilst the vast majority of our qualifications are taken and awarded each year without issue, we are sorry that in the past some of our assessment materials and operational processes have fallen short.

“We accept Ofqual’s finding that there were errors in some cases dating back to 2018.

“Although we sought to mitigate these, we recognise that the steps we took – though undertaken in good faith and accepted by Ofqual – were not sufficiently effective in addressing the issues which had arisen.

“The adjustments needed to our operations were affected by the later COVID-19 pandemic which slowed progress in our ability to implement actions as fully as we would have hoped.”

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