Teachers to estimate functional skills results this summer

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Results for this summer’s cancelled functional skills exams will be based on teacher calculated grades, Ofqual is set to announce.

They will follow the same format being adopted for grading GCSE and A-level students who can’t sit their tests due to the coronavirus crisis.

Ofqual revealed the move in a briefing to the FE sector this morning, where they said the majority, but not all, vocational and technical qualifications will be graded in the same way (click here for full story).

It said: “Calculated results to be used for qualifications akin to general quallifications, including functional skills.”

But the decision will not be welcomed by the Federation of Awarding Bodies.

Their chief executive, Tom Bewick, previously said: “To be absolutely clear, the Federation of Awarding Bodies does not support an ‘estimation’ approach towards functional skills.

“These important qualifications are not the same as GCSEs and A-levels they are about functionality and competence; and we do need to ensure that even these very challenging times – while we do need to be creative, innovative and pragmatic, we don’t junk quality in the process.”

He added: “So it’s a bit like a driving test – we wouldn’t say to driving instructors ‘you just get on and assess whether or not somebody is safe to drive on the roads’. That external assessment and examination is still possible and indeed there are lots of innovative practices already out there – like online secure proctoring.”

Ofqual’s announcement comes despite one awarding giant, City & Guilds, launching plans to allow thousands of students to sit their functional skills exams from home this summer.

They said last week they plan to use remote invigilation by using online meeting software such as GoToMeeting, Zoom and Microsoft Teams this summer.

FE Week has asked Ofqual if all awarding bodies will now need to grade all functional skills students affected by Covid-19 via teacher estimations.

When calculating functional skills grades, teachers must “draw appropriately” on a “range of other evidence” held by the school and the awarding organisation offering the qualification, this morning’s briefing said.

Evidence which “might be useful” in the estimations includes “actual achievement data for candidates – exams or internal assessments which have (or haven’t been through moderation, centre risk profiles” and “historic data on centre outcomes”.

Ofqual’s guidance for grading VTQs can be found here.

And their press release can be found here.

The education secretary’s ministerial direction to Ofqual can be found here.



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8 Comments

  1. Martin Rolfe

    Utterly ridiculous! It demonstrates how little the DoE & Ofqual know about vocational qualifications (can they please explain what the ‘grades’ are in FS?). Functional Skills have now been turned into a worthless qualification which is an insult to AOs and those candidates who have already passed the new and demanding Reformed Functional Skills qualification.

  2. Valerie Armstrong

    This is the news that I was dreading. Functional skills Teacher’s up and down the country have battled and diligently delivered the new standards introduced in September 2019. Learners that arrive in our classrooms are already feeling that they are failures, it takes passion and dedication to get these learners engaged in gaining a qualification in maths and or English. I teach Functional Skills maths at Entry 3, Level one and Level 2, often teaching all three levels in the same class. The learners that I teach have not achieved a qualification in maths prior to coming to college. Through careful teaching and recognising individual needs, I have in the past had great results, and made a difference to their not only to their self esteem, but to their life and employability skills. The new standards have moved the goal posts too far, asking learners to perform GCSE calculations. Functional Skills are meant to be functional, working out angles, nets and and complicated formulas are not needed for these vocational learners at level 2.
    I have been delivering lessons through Teams since the college has been closed, trying to make the lessons interesting and engaging, but unfortunately not all learners have access to a computer/laptop/iPad, making it very difficult for them to access these lessons. I am very worried that learners who have not engaged in these lessons will be judged harshly.
    If we judge a learner not to have reached the required level to pass, Those learners that always surprise us with a pass every year will miss out.

  3. Heather Peacock

    I disagree with the decision to ‘estimate’ functional skills results, especially for the Reform qualifications. These qualifications are different yo GCSEs and A levels as there is no grading and on several occasions I believe that learners have been entered for a level that they are clearly not at and in some cases may now be awarded a certificate where they are not actually at that level and therefore do not deserve the certificate. The other issue I feel this may cause is a lack of value for the qualifications where a learner has the ‘ estimated,’ qualification but actually can’t use the required level of skills in the workplace. This could result in employers losing money due to errors as a result of the learners’ skills being lacking, this means they then question the validity of the qualifications. Once this unprecedented situation is over the learners can very quickly be entered fot the required qualification and with some AOs have a result in a week.

  4. Heather Frankland

    I don’t agree with this decision. Based on some evidence I have seen some learners are clearly not at the level of functional skills that they are entered for by centres. How can employers and other interested parties have confidence in the qualification if a learner goes to work for them, has the certificate saying they have “passed” the qualificaiton at that level, but is clearly not at that level of skill? This will erode confidence in not just the validity and reliability qualification but also the awarding body. Functional skills for most AOs is on demand so learners can very easily be quickly entered for an assessment and have a result within weeks, if not several days for some AOs, unlike GCSEs.

  5. MJ Benbow

    In addition to comments already made, it is not possible to invigilate an examination with any degree of integrity by the methods (Go to meeting, Zoom, Microsoft Teams) given.
    Firstly, as anyone who has ever conducted a transaction online will know, broadband can drop out at any moment (particularly when there are many users) so constant invigilation cannot be guaranteed.
    Secondly, the system could lead to cheating. The device that the candidate is using to access the examination (laptop, tablet, phone) could easily be connected to a much larger TV screen either with a cable or a device such as chrome cast.
    As such, another person could be in the room (but out of camera shot) who could read/hear any question and prompt the candidate.

  6. MJ Benbow

    In addition to the concerns expressed I would like to make the following points:

    Firstly, as anyone knows who has ever conducted a transaction on line will know, the internet link can drop out at any moment meaning that full invigilation at all times cannot be guaranteed.
    Secondly, it would be very easy for candidates to cheat.
    If the exam was on-line – their device could easily be linked (directly with a cable or by something such as chrome cast) to another screen where another person (off camera) could read/listen to any questions and prompt the candidate.
    If the exam was posted to the candidate’s home as a hard copy, it would be very difficult to monitor when the paper was opened and/or if it was copied in any any way (any smart phone or tablet has a camera) and another person could be helping to work out the answers.
    Needless to say, if any candidate had exam access arrangements (such as extra time) it would make a mockery of this.

  7. Off the top of my head I would have thought a mid way solution could have worked.

    Teachers assess the learners as a pass / fail and an interim ‘provisional’ grade is given and certificated.

    The awarding bodies could issue certs stating the grade is provisional and when some semblance of normality resumes, learners could re-sit exams to get the ‘official’ pass.

    Keeps all parties involved.

    A bonus spin off is that data could be analysed at a later date to see how teacher assessed grades differ from the official exam condition grades (say at regional or institution level), which might also act as a brake on sharp practice.

  8. Michael Bagley

    Late to the party here but I feel compelled to make a comment or two. This is a prime example of the extent to which the DfE does not understand vocational quals or the components which make them up, such as functional skills. Some centres will approach these new guidelines sensibly and with integrity; others will not. In these latter centres, a pass or fail is more likely to be the result of personal factors, ignorance or the financial imperative to up the pass rates, than any valid and reliable judgement. It’s an insult to the many learners who’ve already worked hard to achieve a pass with the more difficult reformed functional skills. Absurd!