Ofqual VTQ consultation – what does this mean for the future of assessment?

Stewart Foster, Chief Operating Officer and Responsible Officer at NCFE

The past 12 months have certainly brought about their fair share of challenges, and from an education point of view, especially as an awarding organisation, the challenge of how to adapt teaching and assessment has been the biggest by far.

Education firmly in the spotlight

Earlier in the year, Oqual launched a consultation on alternative arrangements for assessing and awarding vocational and technical qualifications (VTQs) which received a staggering number of responses. The volume of interest in the consultation drives home the importance of getting the assessment model right, both for this academic year and for years to come. People are realising the economic and societal impact of the pandemic and the huge part that education will play in building back our economy and closing vital skills gaps.

In anticipating the outcomes of the consultation, we knew how incredibly important it was to ensure that we were ready for whichever scenario unfolded. Having the knowledge of how quickly the sector had to adapt last year gave us insight into how both centres and learners needed to be guided through the process. Centres look to us to provide the support and guidance they need to get through times such as these so being ready to implement the changes to assessment models was incredibly important, and communicating those changes and adaptations as clearly as possible to our customers was and is paramount.

Embracing change and collaborative working

The changes which have been brought about by the pandemic have meant that as a sector, we’ve had to work together more than ever. We’ve been working with sector bodies, awarding organisations, centres, employers and government to ensure that our offer is aligned and the validity and robustness of assessment is at the forefront of all decision-making. It’s been a time of unification and collaboration that we should embrace and continue to nurture.

What we now need to look at is how learners progress through not only this year but also the years to come, having missed out on significant milestones and experiences. There will not only be motivational and engagement barriers to learning, but also significant mental health issues that we cannot afford to overlook. As a sector, and as a society, we need to do all we can to support our young people in emerging from what has been an incredibly unsettling and stressful year for so many.

Using technology to transform teaching and assessment

One significant leap forward in the sector is the amount we have had to embrace and embed technology as part of teaching and assessment. The flexibility of things like remote invigilation and online learning have revolutionised how we operate and provided a whole new way of working with learners and teachers. This is something that we need to further develop, keeping assessment aligned with technological advancements to create more streamlined and agile processes. More flexibility with assessment also means more inclusivity, ensuring that learners can undertake their assessments where and when they’re ready.

VTQs are practical for a reason

Assessing VTQs is completely different from assessing traditional academic subjects. In adapting assessment practices, we need to ensure not only that knowledge is assessed, but that capability to undertake the practical skills required for the job/field of work are accurately observed, especially when a learner is preparing for a role where they would handle or be responsible for tasks where safety is at stake. Standards for VTQs are very closely linked to jobs and real-life experience so the assessment also needs to reflect this.

Final thoughts

I think we need to take a long hard look at how we work to shape the system moving forward; it’s clear that we need to appreciate the scale of this and change can’t happen overnight but we have proved that we can make huge strides when we work together. It’s up to us to keep this momentum going.

Ultimately what we want and need for the future of education is a system built on success and progression, and that is fundamentally what we are trying to achieve.

For more information on NCFE’s response to the alternative arrangements for awarding in 2020-21, please visit our Covid response hub.

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