A representative body for awarding organisations has said it is “bemused” by the government’s decision to leave it up to colleges to decide whether exams should go ahead this month.

Federation of Awarding Bodies chief executive Tom Bewick said it was “nonsensical and wrong-headed” to place the onus on college leaders to “make these important decisions” during a national lockdown.

“Even if exams could take place in Covid-secure surroundings, it will still not address how individuals, including assessors and staff, will feel about taking part,” he said.

Around 135,000 students had been set to be assessed for vocational qualifications such as BTECs over the next three weeks and the Department for Education said on Monday they would still go ahead despite the new lockdown restrictions.

The DfE then backtracked last night and said that colleges could now cancel BTEC and other vocational assessments due to take place this month, but left it up to leaders to decide. The DfE fell short of cancelling exams altogether, as it has done for this summer’s GCSE and A-level exams.

Bewick yesterday wrote to apprenticeships and skills minister Gillian Keegan to say FAB did not think holding January vocational exams was “realistic in the circumstances,” having consulted with members, including BTEC awarding body Pearson.

He today repeated his call for the exams to be pulled, saying the government was “emphatic” the summer exam series should be cancelled, so should do the same for all exams over the next six months.

Exams watchdog Ofqual’s chief regulator Simon Lebus “should work with the sector to put robust alternative arrangements in place. Many solutions already exist,” Bewick continued.

Pearson has already announced it will award a grade for any BTEC learner 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. But if that is not possible, Pearson said it “will put in place arrangements to ensure you are not disadvantaged”.

A number of colleges had already said they were cancelling January exams before the DfE backtracked on its original plan to push ahead with them, citing safety concerns.

The National Education Union has backed the government’s decision to leave it up to providers to decide whether to hold exams, with joint-general secretary Mary Bousted saying “on balance” this is the right decision, as exam conditions “are not like classroom conditions” and can be “managed in a socially distanced way”.

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  1. Claire Louise

    This is completely ridiculous and unsatisfactory. The Government apparently have no idea how much pressure these uncertainties place on Y11 and Y13 students. Mental health is clearly not a priority here as the young adults that I know are very distressed especially not knowing what is happening with their Level 3 BTec courses.


  2. Yasmin Kayani

    The way students have been treated in this pandemic has been distressing to watch. There were private students who could not progress in the last GCSE & A Level summer 2020 cancellation because I don’t think the govt were aware that they even existed . It was common sense to use teacher predicted grades in this case scenario as they knew what they’re students were capable of achieving but they only decided that at the 11th hour. This year all exams have been cancelled apart from BTECs, leaving colleges to decide if they want to go ahead – again the policy makers have not taken the students mental health into consideration . Give me the job of the Education Minister and I’ll teach him how to lead schools, colleges and Universities through this pandemic and I know I’ll do a better job!

  3. Jacobus cilliers

    I write in connection with the recent announcement that GCSE and A Level examinations will not be taking place this year.

    I appreciate that the government has had to make some very difficult decisions in trying circumstances. I can see that it would be impossible to create a fair and equitable timetable for examinations when students have had such different experiences. I am confident that between them the government and the teaching profession will be able to create a system that assesses this year’s cohort of pupils in a fair way.

    However, I should like to ask that similar effort tis put into providing valid assessment for people like me who are not pupils in a school or college but who have worked equally hard, perhaps harder, in order to be ready for the exam season. Those of us who had entered as external candidates have no one to prepare an assessment of our progress or ability and this is a very real drawback.

    My own situation is that I had an offer of a place to read mathematics at the University of Birmingham in September 2020. My offer was dependent on my achieving an A. grade at A level in the summer, to validate and update the qualifications I had gained thirty years ago in South Africa. I was unable to take up my place as the examinations were cancelled. I was bitterly disappointed, but set about preparing again for this coming summer. Again I have spent evenings and weekends studying in order to qualify for a place on this year’s undergraduate programme. To be told that I must wait now yet another year, through no fault of my own, is a bitter pill to swallow, when I am already 53 years old.

    I imagine there must be a system in place for validation of home educated pupils who are 16 and 18 years old. It would be very unfair to deny them their places at college or university or in the workplace simply because they are exercising their right to alternative means of study. What measures have been put in place for these students? And can they be extended to adults like myself?

    I totally accept that we need a fair, moderated, clear and transparent system of appraisal. I am simply asking that such a system be made accessible to all who need it. Without this support for people with particular needs and circumstances, we cannot say that we are offering equality of opportunity for all.

    I hope very much that you will be able to support my request and lend whatever influence you may have to ensure that there is a way for me and people like me to be tested and assessed this summer.