Pearson hikes grade boundaries for BTEC Tech Awards

Pearson has upped the grade boundaries for BTEC Tech Awards just days before pupils are due to collect their results, meaning youngsters face being handed lower grades than they were expecting.

More than 4,000 people have now signed a petition calling for Pearson to reverse the decision to raise the grade boundaries amid fury about the notice being issued on Friday afternoon. Pupils will get their results on Wednesday.

BTEC Tech Awards are designed to be taught alongside GCSEs to introduce pupils to skills needed in the professional sector. Subjects include health and social care, engineering, child development and creative media production, and count in the ‘open group’ of Progress 8. The course was introduced in September 2017, and this year’s cohort is the first to complete it.

A letter sent out on Friday informed students that the exam board had made “necessary changes” to the grade points needed to provide “qualification outcomes that are fair and have equal value to other level 2 qualifications. This means your qualifications will retain its value and you will be able to cite it confidently when applying to further study or employment.”

It added that Pearson realises some pupils will have had college places offered on the basis of the previous points table, and advises them to take the letter to their college to explain the change.

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.

Petition against the change gathers pace

The online petition, started by a group called ‘health and social care teachers nationwide’, said “most students will receive one grade lower than what they have achieved”.

“Due to the lack of organisation and information shared with teachers and organisations about these changes, many students have missed an opportunity to resit the exam as they believed (and were guided using Pearson’s own grade calculator) that their grades were secure!”

It also said that, under the changes, a pupil who received two merits in coursework units and a low merit in an exam would no longer receive a merit over all but rather a ‘pass’, despite securing merits in three modules.

All students can be confident that they have received a fair and accurate grade that reflects their hard work and ability

The sudden change has echoes of the GCSE English marking scandal in 2012 where grade boundaries were unexpectedly upped midway through the year. The exams regulator stated said this was because teachers had deliberately inflated coursework marks.

In communications to schools, seen by Schools Week, Pearson said it had upped the grade boundaries because pupils’ outcomes had been “significantly higher” than expected and the “qualification grading was more generous than the evidence suggested it should have been, particularly at the level 2 qualification grades”.

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.

A spokesperson for Pearson said that, even after the changes, BTEC students have “performed very well”.

“All students can be confident that they have received a fair and accurate grade that reflects their hard work and ability.”

Pearson is still working to confirm how many pupils will have different grades awarded to them as a result of the change.

Pearson accused of erasing changes pledge

Concerns have also been raised that Pearson has edited its course specifications for the qualifications to remove references about giving teachers notice about any grade boundary changes, although it is not clear when this change was made.

Versions of the specification for the BTEC Tech Award for health and social care hosted on the websites of several schools and colleges state that Pearson will review the grade boundaries over the lifetime of the qualification, but add: “In the event of any change, centres will be informed before the start of teaching for the relevant cohort and an updated table will be issued on our website.” This also appears in cached versions of the specification available on the Pearson website from September 2017.

However, the version now available on the Pearson website states: “The most up to date table will be available in the latest version of the specification on our website. Pearson will monitor the qualification standard and reserves the right to make appropriate adjustments.”

‘Students have worked so hard to find out on results day the goalposts have moved’

Paul Willerton, senior vice principal at the Sutton Academy, in St Helens, said the move “particularly disadvantaged those students where the decision was made with them over not resitting the exam element”.

“We have students who were on a distinction* and so after conversation with them and parents the decision was made not to resit. These students would have wanted to resit if they knew these changes were possible but the specification was very clear that this wouldn’t be the case.

“Once again it feels as though the potential impact on students has been ignored.”

It is our view that the original grade boundaries should be honoured for this year

He was critical of Pearson sending the letter out at 5pm on a Friday “in the middle of the summer holidays”, but added the “biggest concern is those students who have worked so hard against a specification to then find out on results day the goalposts have been moved”.

Another teacher said 21 of her 29 students had been affected by the move which was “completely unfair”. “The students were disadvantaged as a different decision would/could have been made regarding resits had this new information been known to allow them to try and meet the new grade boundaries.”

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the “goalposts have been moved and pupils and their teachers have every right to feel badly let down”.

He said he was “concerned” that the modelling that took place to create the original grade boundaries was “significantly awry” and that centres and candidates had seemingly not been advised that the boundaries were “indicative”.

“It is our view that the original grade boundaries should be honoured for this year, and we will be seeking urgent talks with the exam board, Ofqual and the Department for Education accordingly.”

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  1. Mr Roberts

    I want to say how utterly shocking this is, but if I’m honest every year there is something that happens which causes schools and students an issue.
    This is another example of the poor way in which people in education are treated.
    You believe that you are working towards something against one set of standards but then at the 11th hour a different set of standards are put in place.
    The other concern with this sorry situation is the effect it will have on schools Progress 8 and Attainment 8 scores. I imagine there may well be schools who have entire cohorts of Year 11 pupils entered for a range of these exams trying to assess the impact of the decision made be Pearson on their Bucket 3 outcomes and ultimately the overall schools published results.
    Finally, what strikes me about it all is given that Schools Week have rightly highlighted that schools entered into a contract via the ‘pledge’ not to alter during the course. Therefore now it is clear that they have broke their pledge is what has happened even legal?

    • A Brown

      I’m just wondering if anyone could explain to me why they even have a table? As far as I’m aware, they don’t for GCSE’s and A-levels until after the exams have been marked. By having one, they’ve given targets to aim at, and now they’ve moved them after saying they wouldn’t and all OFQUAL say is that there are lessons to be learned. It leaves me feeling that the underlying attitude is ‘they’re only technical qualifications so no one really cares.’

  2. Lesley Reynolds

    This is so wrong. At such a late date the criteria moves. Upsetting for pupils, their teachers and parents. Existing criteria should apply for this year with notice given for next.