A review by exams regulator Ofqual has found that nearly 21,000 students were affected by BTEC and CTEC results delays last summer, more than 55 per cent more than was previously thought.
Regulators have today published an action plan for 2023 vocational and technical qualification results, which they hope will prevent a repeat of this year’s blunder, but more time is needed to determine the cause of the delays and the appropriate sanctions on awarding bodies.
Ofqual will introduce a “hard deadline” for vocational qualification results next summer and form a taskforce with sector chiefs to prevent results delays seen this year with BTEC and Cambridge Technicals from happening again.
It comes as new data reveals that more students were affected by the summer problems than first thought.
The exams watchdog today announced a five-point plan to ensure problems arising in this summer’s exams, which left thousands of students on Pearson BTEC and OCR CTEC courses waiting for results way beyond level 3 results day in August.
Figures from October’s education select committee scrutiny of the issue indicated that there had been around 13,500 results delayed – 7,000 level 2 BTECs, , 3,300 level 3 BTECs and 3,200 CTECs.
But figures released by Ofqual today revealed it was around 21,000 results in total – 12,346 level 3 results and 8,573 level 2 results. That was across 1,550 schools, colleges and other centres.
Ofqual’s chief regulator Dr Jo Saxton told FE Week that more work is continuing on investigating the root causes of the delays, and said it was too early to talk about any possible sanctions, but unveiled five measures to begin in 2023 to ensure the same issues do not arise next summer.
That includes a hard deadline for vocational and technical qualification results, likely to be a week before the main level 3 results deadline for general qualifications like A-levels, but to be finalised in consultation with the sector to ensure it is the right timing.
In addition, a taskforce will be formed of “key senior sector leaders of those who were affected this summer”, to be chaired by Saxton, to ensure new requirements are working, refine arrangements where needed and ensure direct and regular communication.
That will meet for the first time in January, and will discuss any additional measures for 2024.
Pearson and OCR bosses will be on that panel, Dr Saxton confirmed.
Elsewhere, exam boards will be required to have a term-time check point with centres, likely to be in June but also to be confirmed in consultation with sector leaders, to ensure any missing units are established early enough.
Bespoke training for exams officers, administration staff and any academic staff that would like it will also be carried out, as well as a requirement for improved communications from awarding bodies, including a duty to have a senior contact point with a mobile phone number.
Dr Saxton told FE Week that the plan will be “a proof of concept that these new systems will work” and that, while more work is needed on investigating the causes of the problems, the package of measures provides “a good sense” of those causes it has found so far.
“My priority, once we understood the scale of this, has focused on the things that need putting in place for 2023 to protect students against this happening again,” Dr Saxton said.
“In terms of the root causes, I want to take a bit longer to understand that and be sure we are putting the right things in place.”
On the improvements, she added: “We are really conscious of not wanting to create any additional workload for anyone. Our overall strategic aim, apart from protecting students from this risk, is to not create any new or additional workload, but to try and frontload the workload or at least break it up throughout the year so it isn’t all over 24 hours during non-term time.”
Any future sanctions on Pearson and OCR will come later on in the process.
Dr Saxton also said that the bosses at both awarding bodies had been receptive and co-operative through the process.
In the meantime, as part of the continuing work on establishing the causes of the issue, Ofqual is keen to gain evidence from students and their parents affected by the issues.
But Dr Saxton said Ofqual had heard from “surprisingly few” students and parents so far, which is another reason more time is needed to hear from more. It was also more complicated to work out how many students were affected than initially expected, Ofqual said.
Ofqual’s portal for hearing from those affected remains open. Centres can take part here while students and parents can email email@example.com.
The task group membership is as follows:
Dr Jo Saxton (Ofqual, chief regulator) (Chair)
Catherine Sezen (Association of Colleges, interim director of education policy)
Dr Anne Murdoch (Association of School and College Leaders, senior advisor, college leadership)
Steve Rollett (Confederation of School Trusts, deputy chief executive)
Jenny Oldroyd and/or Stuart Miller (Department for Education, qualificationas directors)
Tom Bewick (Federation of Awarding Bodies, chief executive)
Ian Morgan (Joint Council for Qualifications, chairman)
Sarah Hannafin (NAHT, senior policy advisor)
Jugjit Chima (National Association of Examinations Officers, chief executive)
Jill Duffy (OCR, chief executive)
Freya Thomas-Monk (Pearson, SVP qualifications and training)
Bill Watkin (Sixth Form Colleges Association, chief executive)
Clare Marchant (UCAS, chief executive)