‘Pyrrhic victory’: Functional skills learners CAN receive teacher assessed grades

Functional skills students can receive teacher assessed grades this year but only if it is not possible to sit their exam either in-person or remotely, the government has finally confirmed.

This will apply to those who have been unable to take the assessment since September 2020 right through to the end of the 2020/21 academic year.

FE Week understands learners who receive their results through this route will be able to do so from April, but questions remain over how many will be in line to receive teacher-assessed grades as many remote proctoring solutions are now being rolled out and lockdown restrictions eased.

Awarding bodies will issue guidance to colleges and providers about what evidence is needed for teacher assessed grades and the timelines for information to be submitted from today (February 25).

The Department for Education and Ofqual confirmed this approach as they set out their final decision on awarding grades for GCSEs, A-levels and vocational and technical qualifications this summer following the cancellation of exams and a consultation.

Providers and thousands of learners, particularly apprentices, have been stuck in limbo and unable to complete their functional skills programme due to Covid-19 restrictions since the start of the academic year.

The issue lies mostly with those in health care settings such as nursing homes, who have not been able to attend their provider’s site to sit the exam, to prevent the spread of the virus.

Association of Employment and Learning Providers chief executive Jane Hickie said that after five months of “battling”, the confirmation that teacher assessments will be permitted “seems almost like a pyrrhic victory for the thousands of apprentices who have been unable to progress”.

She added that it was also “disappointing” that the assessments can’t begin until after Easter on technical grounds which “don’t seem to trouble the Welsh government”.


‘Apprentices have been let down very badly by this sorry episode’

Functional skills learners were able to receive calculated results last summer following the cancellation of exams, but Ofqual has until now refused to reintroduce them.

Awarding bodies have meanwhile struggled to introduce remote solutions that allow apprentices to take the assessments either at home or in the workplace without face-to-face invigilation.

But many awarding organisations have now got over this hurdle. The majority are offering remote solutions where learners and apprentices can sit the assessment at home.

The AELP does however anticipate that teacher assessments will be needed despite the lockdown restrictions being lifted and warned that it “may take up to the end of July to clear the logjam of untaken functional skills tests”.

Hickie said that independent training providers, assessors and apprentices are at the “back of the queue” in receiving Covid home testing kits and therefore “safety considerations are likely to lead in a demand for the alternative arrangements allowed by this consultation outcome”.

“Young apprentices have been let down very badly by this sorry episode of complete indifference during an unprecedented pandemic and many of them are now beyond the planned ended dates of their apprenticeship programmes, meaning that they are reliant on their providers to support them unfunded,” she added.

“Not exactly the apprenticeship guarantee that the prime minister had in mind.”

Ofqual has published a guide to awarding functional skills in 2021, which you can read here.

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  1. Gideon Eames

    Functional Skills students are being treated with disdain. Whilst their GCSE counterparts are not required to take exams and stand get inflated grades due to the lack of robust guidance regarding teacher assessment, FS students will be taking exams with no dispensation, as if the pandemic never happened. They have suffered exactly the same disruption to learning as GCSE students, not to mention the same mental health challenges, yet none of this will be taken into account. Could someone please explain to me how this is fair?

  2. Denise Wallis

    Totally agree with Gideon Eames post. Adult learners, have suffered due to Covid. Lack of technology through the lockdown for online classes. 16-18 being the college and governments priority to ensure they have laptops. Teachers finding it difficult to teach practical skills within FS. Using protractors, compasses, measuring angles and bearings. I might get a session to deliver this in our phased return to the classroom. This hasn’t been thought out properly. Functional Skills learners achievement will suffer.

  3. Geoff Godsell

    Many F/S awarding bodies are/will be trying to push remote invigilation or proctoring but at additional cost which is not an acceptable solution when providers and clients are suffering from covid related issues. Assessed grades are the right way forward.

  4. Alison Rickard

    Many students would have been exam ready at some point in the last year, only to have their exams cancelled indefinitely. They are now sat waiting for a new date to sit the exams before they can complete their apprenticeships. I would imagine they will need to relearn/refresh all previously learnt content before being able to sit their FS exams (who knows when at this point) alongside caring for families and working full time, etc. Definitely not ideal!