Ofqual: 'Significant lessons to be learned' from Pearson's BTEC Tech Awards saga

Ofqual has warned there are “significant lessons to be learned” from Pearson’s last-minute decision to raise its grade boundaries for the BTEC Tech Awards, which it admitted had led to “understandable uncertainty and frustration”.

Days before BTEC results day, Pearson announced it would be raising the grade boundaries for the qualification amid concerns that the course had been too generously graded and outcomes were “significantly higher” than expected.

The decision has caused fury in schools, which were informed of the change on Friday – less than a week before results are released on Wednesday. Many teachers have voiced concerns that the sudden change will negatively impact pupils’ grades at a point when it is too late for them to re-sit.

Pearson initially set out grade boundaries for the BTEC Tech Awards, and said that centres would be informed “before the start of teaching” of any changes to the grade boundaries. However, this sentence has now been removed from the specifications on the Pearson website.

In statement today, exams watchdog Ofqual said it was “regrettable” that Pearson had set out definitive grading points in the course specification, and that changing these had led to “understandable uncertainty and frustration”.

“The action Pearson has taken to set standards has been appropriate at the overall, cohort level. However, the decision to publish grading points in their specification may have led some teachers and students to take different decisions than they might otherwise have done.

“There are significant lessons to be learned by all awarding organisations about the commitments they make in their specifications and associated materials, and how they communicate with schools and colleges when issues arise. We will be reflecting on these issues further after results are published.”

More than 5,000 people have now signed a petition to reverse the grade boundary changes.

This sentiment has been echoed by Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, who said his association would be seeking “urgent talks” with Pearson, Ofqual and the Department for Education to try and ensure the original grade boundaries are honoured for this year.

Under the changes, the marks needed to pass the level 2 qualification have risen from 69 to 72, and those required for a merit have risen from 82 to 95.

For a level 2 distinction pupils will now need an extra 10 marks, rising from 95 to 105, while a distinction* requires 114 points, up from 108.

The pass mark for the level 1 BTEC Tech Award has not changed, but the points required for a merit have increased from 43 to 44, and those for a distinction risen from 56 to 58.

Pupils who took the exam in June will be able to re-sit in early 2020. However, for those who sat the exam in February and chose not to re-sit based on the previous grade boundaries, the path is less clear. Pearson has asked schools to contact them regarding these pupils.

Pearson is still establishing how many pupils will have a different grade awarded because of the change.

The exam board was contacted for comment regarding Ofqual’s statement, but had not responded by the time of publishing.

Earlier today, a spokesperson for Pearson said all BTEC students have “performed very well” despite the changes, and insisted they would all get a “fair and accurate grade that reflects their hard work and ability.”