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BTEC and CTEC delays: 21k students affected, Ofqual review finds

Five-point plan produced to avoid repeat as exam board reports blame 'complex' Covid rules and inexperienced exams officers

Five-point plan produced to avoid repeat as exam board reports blame 'complex' Covid rules and inexperienced exams officers

15 Dec 2022, 16:45

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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.

It prompted the exams watchdog to outline a series of measures to prevent a repeat in 2023.

Ofqual will introduce a “hard deadline” for vocational qualification results next summer and form a taskforce with sector chiefs (see full list of names below) to prevent results delays seen this year from happening again.

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.

But Ofqual said more time is needed to determine the cause of the delays and the appropriate sanctions on awarding bodies.

The two awarding organisations at the centre of the controversy – Pearson and OCR – have today published their own reports on the errors.

Complex Covid-19 assessment adaptations, poor communication from exam boards and an influx of inexperienced exams officers were to blame for “unacceptable” delays, the reports suggested.

Pearson’s report says it will also release results under embargo around a week before the results are released, rather than 24 hours before.

OCR meanwhile, which had just under 11,000 delayed results, has promised to review risk logs for Cambridge Technicals more regularly and conduct a review of staff expertise, as well as bolster relationships with schools and colleges.

Both Pearson and OCR will also be represented on a new taskforce of sector leaders to implement new measures in time for summer 2023.

A Pearson spokesperson said they look forward to working with the education community on the improvements.

“It was unacceptable that some students did not receive their results when they were expecting them this summer, and we apologise for Pearson’s role in this,” they added.

OCR chief executive Jill Duffy said the promised improvements “will not only prevent a recurrence, but improve the wider experience for students, parents, schools and colleges.”

Pearson was at the centre of the storm in August as thousands of BTEC students reported showing up on results day to find an empty box where their final grade should have been. Just under 10,000 results were delayed.

The awarding body’s review, led by former Education and Training Foundation chief executive David Russell, describes how missing or incomplete data from colleges and schools on students’ exams and coursework results led to most of the delays.

Administration processes were “more complex than usual” because students completing BTECs had experienced a range of adaptations to their assessments due to the pandemic – all of which came with additional requirements on teachers and centres.

Pearson also cite survey evidence from the National Association of Examinations Officers stating that 22 per cent of exams officers were new in post in 2022, suggesting a large proportion of the exams workforce wasn’t experienced enough to handle “complex data collation processes”.

Pearson has said that 55 per cent of the delayed results came from just 7 per cent of its centres, which those impacted most tending to offer large numbers of BTEC programmes or have many sites.

One of the criticisms of exam boards at the time was that errors in data supplied by centres was not spotted and fixed prior to results day.

Pearson said it alerted all centres that had missing grades, but the report found it needs to improve “how we communicate” about missing data and “check more carefully” that requests are being actioned.

OCR meanwhile said it was not apparent there were issues until results day itself. Most delayed results were provided within a week, but “some complex cases took until 7 September”.

The report said that the Covid adaptations – which included teacher-assessed grades, reduced assessment in coursework and allowance of assessed grades for students who couldn’t sit exams – in conjunction with a “significant increase in missing and incomplete results” was behind the issue.

Ofqual’s portal for hearing from those affected remains open. Centres can take part here while students and parents can email discussions@ofqual.gov.uk.

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, qualifications 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)

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