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Exams deregulation good news for SEND pupils


Proposals by Ofqual to deregulate entry-level qualifications have been welcomed as an opportunity for exam boards to be “innovative” with their offer to pupils with special education needs – meaning their schools can provide a more “personalised curriculum”.

The qualifications watchdog launched a consultation earlier this month over plans to reduce its regulatory burden on entry-level qualifications, which fall below GCSEs on the national qualifications framework.

Ofqual said removing some of the “blanket criteria” that exam boards must meet when producing the qualifications, aimed at pupils who struggle to access the mainstream curriculum, would allow exam boards to develop qualifications that better meet users’ needs.

Simon Knight, deputy headteacher at Frank Wise special school and associate director at National Education Trust, told Schools Week: “This may… provide qualification designers with a new opportunity to work collaboratively with schools, sixth forms and colleges in order to create further entry level opportunities that best capture what pupils have learned and avoid simplistically determining what is to be taught.”

He said the qualifications need to offer “meaningful and purposeful functional opportunities that are shaped by the needs of individuals”, adding: “This move by Ofqual may allow the sector to develop new, innovative ways of supporting pupils to produce better evidence of their true capability.”

Barney Angliss, an SEND consultant, said the move was a “pragmatic step, given the new landscape of accountability, and may actually help specialist SEND settings to offer a more personalised curriculum”.

He said there is now a recognition in the sector that the reformed GCSEs are almost “out of reach” of pupils looking to progress from entry-level qualifications.

“Qualification providers will generally want to make a choice whether to ensure progression from Entry 3 [the highest entry-level] by aligning these qualifications to the new Grade 1 in GCSE or, alternatively, to match a qualification more closely and sensitively to the needs of specialist schools and colleges and perhaps forfeit any attempt at synergy with GCSEs.”

Ofqual said it expects the move will prompt exam boards to develop new qualifications that better meet users’ needs.

The government’s recent post-16 skills plan raised concerns about the overall number of qualifications, which it said can cause confusion.

But Ofqual said many of the new qualifications would replace “less effective” ones, adding that it expects those older qualifications to be withdrawn once the last students have sat them.

The watchdog said it will keep the number of entry-level qualifications under review.

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  1. There was a time when GCSE was aligned to pupil needs. When it was introduced by Keith Joseph it was intended to offer a qualification which showed a pupil’s achievement from Basic (GCSE grade G – the threshold for Level 1) to Exceptional (grade A – A* was introduced later).
    Since then GCSE grades G-D (all Level 1) have been smeared as not ‘good’ GCSEs. It’s encouraging that Entry Level qualifications are becoming more flexible, but the negativity surrounding GCSEs G-D (and soon-to-be grades 1 – I’m not sure) needs tackling or why bother with any grades below those deemed to be ‘good’?’
    The answer is to move towards graduation at 18 via multiple routes.