Pressure is ramping up on the government to cancel vocational exams in England this month after exam bodies – including the one that runs BTECs – joined calls for them to be scrapped.
Federation of Awarding Bodies chief executive Tom Bewick has today written to apprenticeships and skills minister Gillian Keegan, in a letter seen by sister title FE Week, urging her and education secretary Gavin Williamson to reconsider plans for the exams to go ahead following the new national lockdown restrictions.
After consulting with “key” members including Pearson, which runs BTECs, as well as OCR and the City & Guilds awarding body, Bewick wrote: “Given the move to the highest coronavirus alert level, and the government’s own statutory guidance for people to ‘stay at home’ in England, we do not feel the ambition of going ahead with the January series is realistic.
“As we found in March, the most severe of lockdown restrictions are not always compatible with conducting assessments in situ, including the many public health and logistical challenges of securing invigilators and assessors.”
Instead, the awarding bodies want students to be issued with centre-assessed grades, as they were last summer, or for exams regulator Ofqual to consult with awarding bodies on other options for assessments to take place.
Prime minister Boris Johnson announced last night that schools and colleges in England should move to remote education for all but vulnerable students and the children of key workers until at least the February half term, amid soaring Covid-19 cases.
Johnson also announced this summer’s GCSE and A-level exams would be cancelled; however, the Department for Education last night sparked controversy by saying this month’s exams for vocational and technical qualifications – which 135,000 students are set to sit – should go ahead.
Pearson has published a statement which says they are working with the DfE to “to understand the implications” of the government’s decision “and will share any updates as soon as we have them”.
Association of Colleges chief executive David Hughes has also written to Keegan today asking her to make an “urgent” decision to cancel.
He has since spoken with the minister, and reported she was considering her response to the calls for exams to be cancelled.
However, the National Education Union – the country’s largest teachers’ union – has backed the government’s decision.
Mary Bousted, the union’s joint general secretary, 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.
“There is now also much less footfall on the site because of the lockdown, so exams can be managed in a socially distanced way,” she added.