Ofqual to proceed with extra regulation of tech awards

The exams regulator will proceed with plans for greater regulation of technical award qualifications for 14 to 16-year-olds, amid fears about their vulnerability.

Under the new rules, awarding organisations will have to submit new technical awards to be reviewed by both Ofqual and the Department for Education if they want them to count in school league tables. At present, they are only reviewed by the DfE.

Ofqual launched a consultation on the matter last October, after admitting it had “concerns over the potential vulnerability of these qualifications”, including that they “may be open to grade inflation or misuse”.

Technical awards are level 1 and 2 qualifications offered by some schools and colleges alongside GCSEs. They were taken by around 35 per cent of pupils at key stage 4 in 2017-18.

At the moment, technical awards are designed based on technical guidance issued by the DfE, and Ofqual has no specific rules that apply to the qualifications, beyond its general conditions of recognition.

But under the watchdog’s new approach, the qualifications will be subject to qualification level conditions (QLCs) similar to those which already exist for GCSEs.

Awarding organisations will have to submit their qualifications to the DfE’s performance table qualifications’ approvals process in spring 2020 for review by DfE and Ofqual – with Ofqual providing advice based on its reviews to the DfE.

To meet Ofqual’s approval, technical awards will have to provide “reliable evidence” of learners’ attainment, a “breadth and depth of study of a sector or broad occupational group” and a basis for schools and colleges to be held accountable for the performance of their learners.

They will also have to provide a course of learning “with which learners can suitably engage”.

Ofqual also said the awards should have at least 120 guided hours, but it has not applied a specified total qualification time. The regulator also stipulated that at least 40 per cent of the total marks should be made available through an exam.

Most respondents agreed with this proposal and felt it would reduce confusing for pupils by bringing it “in line with other general or vocational qualification”.

The rules will only apply to those qualifications intended to be included in school performance tables, and will first apply to technical awards due to be included in the league tables in 2023.

Ofqual’s consultation received just 18 responses; eight from awarding organisations, five from teachers, two from unions and three from other groups.

However, a further 27 people attended a consultation event and individual meetings were held with awarding organisations.

Some respondents noted there “might be insufficient time to develop assessment strategies” or implement changes where required.