Skills reform

Who’s deciding the future of BTECs? Secrecy surrounds DfE’s ‘independent assessors’

Transparency demanded as DfE refuses to publish details

Transparency demanded as DfE refuses to publish details

Ministers have been criticised for refusing to publish details about a team of “independent assessors” who have been tasked with deciding the future of thousands of BTECs and other level 3 courses.   

The first provisional list of qualifications that the Department for Education deems to overlap with the first ten T Levels and face being defunded was finally published earlier this month

In total, just 160 vocational and technical qualifications – including 38 BTECs – of a possible 2,000 courses that were evaluated now face being axed, from 2024. More courses will be removed in future years.   

An impact assessment report showed there are 66,000 enrolments on the courses, 27 per cent of which are students deemed to be the “most disadvantaged”.   

Appeals guidance for awarding bodies revealed that the DfE commissioned “independent assessors” to evaluate the qualifications against three “tests”. But no other information has been released about exactly who these independent assessors are, who are making huge decisions on qualifications sat by tens of thousands of students.   

Vicky Foxcroft MP challenged skills minister Alex Burghart on this issue in the House of Commons this week, asking him to “confirm who these assessors actually are”.   

But the minister refused to say anything other than telling the MP that the DfE has a “range of independent assessors who are going through the processes”.   

The DfE told FE Week that six “experts” have been recruited to evaluate the qualifications in total. A spokesperson said the independent assessors were “selected based on relevant experience and expertise, such as qualification design, development, delivery “and assessment approaches”.   

But the department refused to say anything further or commit to publishing details about their experience, jobs or how they were recruited.   

Sector leaders have called for more transparency due to the “significant” public interest.   

Bill Watkin, chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges Association, said: “It is asking a lot of six individuals to review hundreds of qualifications across a range of sectors in what was likely a very constrained timeframe. This process should be practitioner-led, with input from staff in colleges that have a recent, successful track record in qualification delivery.   

“We would be happy to suggest practitioners who would be willing to support the department’s independent assessors in making these high-stakes decisions, particularly as determining overlap with wave 3 and 4 T Levels will be an even bigger and more complex task.”   

Tom Bewick, who heads up the Federation of Awarding Bodies, has written to Burghart on the issue.   

In his letter, seen by FE Week, Bewick said: “I hope you would agree, the department needs to build maximum trust and public confidence in this process. Not least, the provisional list is subject to appeal, so it is reasonable for awarding organisations, employers and wider sector stakeholders affected, to want to understand how a particular decision has been arrived at and by whom.    

“Without this kind of information being made freely and publicly available, it is hard to see how the public can be fully confident in the process.”   

The three tests that qualifications needed to meet to be deemed to “overlap” with T Levels were:   

  1. Is the qualification technical, in that its primary purpose aims to support entry to employment in a specific occupational area(s)? 
  1. Are the outcomes of the qualification similar to those set out in an occupational standard covered by a T Level? 
  1. Does the qualification aim to support entry to the same occupation as a T Level?   

The DfE said independent assessors not involved in the original decision will consider any appeals made by awarding bodies to “maintain the objectivity and independence in the process”.   

Awarding organisations have until July 8 to submit appeals. 

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