Digital functional skills: DfE backtrack after SEND exclusion warning

A consultation on the new qualifications triggered a massive backlash against making learners complete assessments entirely on computers

A consultation on the new qualifications triggered a massive backlash against making learners complete assessments entirely on computers


The Department for Education has backtracked on a proposal for new digital functional skills qualifications which could have excluded special educational needs learners.

Decisions on how the courses will be regulated, following a consultation which launched in 2019, have been published today alongside the launch of a new consultation covering awarding arrangements.

One of the department’s decisions is to not go ahead with prohibiting learners from taking their assessments on paper.

The DfE had argued making learners complete assessments on screen was necessary because access to paper copies could not be “effectively restricted”.

This proposal triggered a wave of protests from consultation respondents, with a majority disagreeing with prohibiting paper-based assessments.

This was because “a paper-based format may be required for some students with learning difficulties or disabilities who can’t use an on-screen assessment,” today’s decisions document reads.

Furthermore, not all centres would have reliable internet access or enough equipment, and students “would be discriminated against if this was the only way to access an on-demand assessment”.

On-demand assessments refer to those available for an extended time window.

Digital-based functional skills tests ‘risk making it difficult’ for students, DfE says

An equality impact assessment published earlier this month alongside subject content for the new qualifications revealed the DfE’s concerns the courses’ design and delivery would “negatively impact” learners with special educational needs.

Today, the department bowed to the pressure, with the decision document revealing: “In light of the feedback, we do not think that we should prohibit paper-based, on-demand assessments as it might risk making it difficult for some types of centres and students to access these qualifications.”

Students will still need to use digital devices to complete tasks and questions in the assessment and the department wants awarding organisations to explain how they will manage any risks from using paper assessments.

It will be expected that paper-based assessments will only be available in “limited circumstances,” the decision notice added.

Digital functional skills qualifications are set to roll out in 2023.

The consultation on arrangements including the weighting of marks and the number of assessments is running from today until 27 January 2022.

You can view and respond to it here.

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