DfE backtracks: schools and colleges left to decide whether BTECs go ahead

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

After last night’s announcement to close schools and cancel exams, the department insisted that vocational exams due to take place in January would still go ahead.

But the DfE backtracked today, saying: “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.”

When pressed on this, a spokesperson confirmed this meant schools and colleges now don’t have to run the exams.

Pearson, which runs BTECs, has now said that they will award a grade for any student who is unable to take their exams and has “enough evidence to receive a certificate that they need for progression”.

Those unable to take their assessment this month “may be able to” take it at a later date. “If that is not possible, we will put in place arrangements to ensure you are not disadvantaged,” Pearson added.

The DfE spokesperson added they “understand this is a difficult time but we want to support schools and colleges whose students have worked hard to prepare for assessments and exams where necessary.

“This may be particularly important for VTQs which require a ‘license to practice’ which can only be fulfilled through practical assessment, such as an electrician.”

“Schools and colleges have already implemented extensive protective measures to make them as safe as possible. We will continue to work with Ofqual, awarding organisations and other stakeholders to discuss the next steps and provide more detail on the way forward, including ensuring other students have a way to progress with as little disruption as possible.”

Exam boards had called for the exams to be cancelled.

David Hughes, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said the government response will “disappoint the thousands of students as well as staff” across the country who have “shown how worried they are about sitting exams this month”.

“The risk is that this continues the confusion, leads to more uncertainty for every student and puts thousands of young people and their families at risk as well as the college staff managing the exams.

“It has no message for students in colleges which do cancel for safety reasons and does not reflect the issue of fairness between vocational and technical students with their peers taking A Levels and GCSEs.”


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  1. So school leaders are not allowed to ‘judge’ if their individual settings are becoming unsafe and need to shut (threatened with legal action), yet are expected to judge at the height of a pandemic that it may be safe to run a public exam. Who do we send that risk assessment to for approval?

  2. C. JONES

    Leaders need to cancel exams. The stress and anxiety that Covid bring is no fair playing field to assess learners in. All assessment must go to calculated/predicted for all students this year, including higher education.

  3. Very poor quality yet again
    I am a college student studying plumbing you say your trying not to affect us but thats all you have done from day 1 when we cant even take our books home to fill in as there a controled document yet we have missed half of our year already this govement is 1 big joke

  4. This is an incredible show of incompetence. It is kind of saying, “OK, you don’t like my decision. Do it as you like then.” Shocking, a lack of leadership. He is obviously out of his depth leading the country’s education. He must now miss his old job that he was forced to left as Secretary of state for Defence.