Pearson: We apologise for not being clear on BTEC changes – but it’s the right call

20 Aug 2019, 13:01

This week, tens of thousands of students receive their results for their Level 2 vocational qualifications and GCSEs. Our BTEC Tech Awards are designed to be taught alongside GCSEs, giving students a glimpse into a professional sector whilst teaching them skills for life.

Students will receive grades for the first time in five new BTEC qualifications in Health & Social Care, Engineering, Enterprise, Performing Arts and Media after two years of hard work, with support from their teachers and parents.

After a great deal of consideration we made the difficult decision to adjust the L2 Tech Award grade tables. This decision was made in the interests of students to ensure fairness of outcomes across different years and to also provide the assurance on standards and rigour of this important qualification suite.

Whilst it is rare, there are times when a new qualification is introduced when making a change to grading tables is an important mechanism to review how the qualification is performing against the criteria that are set.

We acknowledge we should have been clearer at the start of the teaching year that grade boundaries are subject to change

This is because we don’t have historical patterns for achievement for brand new qualifications, meaning sometimes we have to take action, as we have done here.

We’d like to reassure all centres that it is very unlikely that we would change the grading tables again for this qualification in the future, but it would only be prudent for us to keep this under review.

In this case, it is important to make these changes now, before any grades have been issued to ensure that outcomes are fair – not just for this year’s students receiving their results, but for future generations of BTEC learners to ensure comparability across all cohorts.

We should have been clearer over grade standard changes

We acknowledge that we should have been clearer at the start of the teaching year that grade standards are subject to change, in order to help better guide teacher and student choices throughout the year.

We apologise unreservedly for this, and for the concern this has caused students, teachers and parents. We’ll take time, working with teachers and school leaders to ensure better and deeper understanding of how the system works, going forward.

That may be little comfort to students who had the option to do a re-sit in the summer but chose not to, and for all those students, we are taking action.

We have analysed the performance of every student who sat an exam for these qualifications in January and did not re-sit in the summer. Based on the performance of the students who re-sat these exams we can see that in the vast majority of cases, while their performance in the exam might have improved slightly, this would not have improved their overall grade.

Some students will be issued revised grades

However, some students would have been likely to achieve a higher grade if they had been presented with the opportunity to re-sit. As a result, we are issuing this group of students with a revised grade, to ensure that no-one is disadvantaged. We will be in touch with those schools and colleges to let them know that they will receive the updated result tomorrow.

We’re also hearing concerns that the changes to the grade table might impact students’ progression to college or sixth form. As most colleges and sixth forms request a Pass, we believe it unlikely that any students’ progression will be affected in this way.

To be sure, we are writing today to all colleges to inform them about the changes that we’ve made so that they can take into account students’ performance on the individual units when making their decisions.

Not making any change until September … would be the wrong thing to do

The final concern that has been raised by teachers and others is around the timing of these changes, especially when the specification noted that any changes would be made at the start of the teaching term.

As noted above, we acknowledge this and wish that we could have communicated earlier. However, we were constrained as we did not have visibility of the majority of grades being awarded on these new qualifications prior to June when schools and colleges submitted their grades to us. Once we received these and had visibility of the grading algorithm, we felt a responsibility to act.

Not making changes until September could put us at risk of breaching rules

We have of course considered the alternative – not making any changes until September for the second cohort. Whilst some might think this would be a preferred option, this would have put us at risk of a breach of our regulatory conditions, and more importantly, this would be the wrong thing to do.

It would undermine the value of the qualification, and students across different cohorts would have been treated entirely differently for the same work. It has been possible for us to address this before we issue any grades for these new qualifications in their first year of certification – and this is what we have done.

Our utmost priority is ensuring fairness for all students and retaining the value and rigour of our BTEC qualifications.

Why? Because BTECs support an increased demand for high quality career-focused education, preparing learners with the skills required to be successful and make progress in their lives – be it to further study, higher education or employment. Testimony to this is the fact that more than a quarter of young people going to university last year did so with a BTEC and many others advanced to successful careers.

BTEC is a very relevant and an important pathway helping learners to prepare for our changing world. The design of and value in a BTEC is centred on preparing young people for the future of work and employment, equipping them with the technical knowledge, the application of that knowledge and the vital soft and hard skills that will set them up to be successful in their lives.

This is why we are so passionate about the role of BTEC and committed to ensuring that there is a progression pathway for learners. That is our commitment now and in the future.

Cindy Rampersaud is senior vice president, BTEC and apprenticeships, and Derek Richardson is vice president, responsible officer, quality services and governance

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