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. 

More from this theme

ABS, Skills reform

Maths to 18: MPs want financial literacy alternative to GCSE resits

Education committee urges ministers to 'prioritise' financial education in post-16 maths

Billy Camden
Bootcamps, Ofsted, Skills reform

US ed tech giant exits bootcamps after raking in £5m

Struggling firm leaves UK training 'in the best interest of students'

Billy Camden
Colleges, Skills reform

MPs: DfE should include FE in teacher recruitment forecasts

FE is the 'worst impacted' sector yet often ignored by DfE plans

Josh Mellor
AEB, Politics, Skills reform

DfE scales back ‘free courses for jobs’ offer 

Access will be restricted to adults earning below £25k in 2024/25

Billy Camden
Politics, Skills reform

‘Change on an unprecedented scale’: Ofqual responds to ABS plans

Qualifications reform risks more exams, 'unregulated' A-levels and students unprepared for higher study, says exams regulator

Freddie Whittaker
Colleges, ITPs, Skills reform, Universities

Publish performance data for university franchise providers, MPs tell OfS

Public Accounts Committee warns of system abuse and oversight flaws

Josh Mellor

Your thoughts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *