Teachers’ union backs government decision for January BTEC exams to go ahead


The country’s largest teachers’ union has backed the government’s controversial decision to plough ahead with BTEC and other vocational exams over the coming weeks despite the national lockdown.

Mary Bousted (pictured), the joint general secretary of the National Education Union, told FE Week that “on balance” this is the right decision as exam conditions “are not like classroom conditions” and can be “managed in a socially distanced way”.

She added that “so many young people have been working towards them” and it is therefore “important” for those exams to go ahead.

The NEU leader is in the minority of people who agree that the exams should go ahead, with organisations such as the Association of Colleges, the Federation of Awarding Bodies, and the University and College Union all calling for them to be cancelled.

Prime minister Boris Johnson urged the public to “stay at home” as he announced a new six week national lockdown on Monday to tackle a new variant of Covid-19 that is making cases spiral.

Schools and colleges will now close to all but vulnerable students and children of key workers until the February half term at least, and the summer exam series will not be going ahead “as normal”.

The AoC estimates that around 135,000 students are due to sit BTEC and other vocational exams over the next three weeks, with many of them starting yesterday. But some colleges have chosen to cancel the assessments in the face of government plans for them to go ahead.

The Department for Education backtracked last night and said schools and colleges can now cancel BTEC assessments due to take place this month, but has left it up to leaders to decide.

“In light of the evolving public health measures, schools and colleges can continue with the vocational and technical exams that are due to take place in January, where they judge it right to do so,” a spokesperson said.

FE Week spoke to Bousted prior to this update and when asked whether she agreed with the government’s decision to continue with the January exams as planned, she said: “Yes, I do think that on balance it’s the right decision for January assessments and BTECs to go ahead this month.

“While I’m the first to say that schools and colleges need to be secure and Covid-safe, exam conditions are not like classroom conditions. It is much more possible to make exams Covid-safe than teaching where you’re interacting with people.

“There is now also much less footfall on the site because of the lockdown, so exams can be managed in a socially distanced way.”

Bousted concluded: “It’s important that those exams go ahead – so many young people have been working towards them.”

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