Alternative arrangements for the award of VTQ and other general qualifications in summer 2021  

By Dr Anne Murdoch OBE, ASCL Senior Advisor, College Leadership  

Vocational and technical qualifications (VTQs) and general qualifications assessments regularly get forgotten by government and changes to these qualifications are often seen as affecting far fewer learners. Yet, VTQs are taken by hundreds of thousands of learners each year, who use them as progression to higher education, to apprenticeships and to employment whilst others take a mixture of academic and general vocational qualifications as their preferred route. If higher education and employers value these qualifications highly, as they do, then why are they always an afterthought with regulators and the government?

It came as somewhat of a surprise then that, unlike past experiences, the Ofqual consultation on VTQs was announced at the same time as that for A levels, AS levels and GCSEs.

The consultation suggests that lessons were learned in the summer of 2020 as far as these qualifications are concerned and that there will now be put in place adaptations, adjustments and procedures which will meet the standards required for these types of qualifications. Ofqual will put in place regulatory arrangements to enable learners to get results, irrespective of the catastrophic impact of the pandemic on learning for young people and adults in 2020-21.

Options for assessment
Ofqual’s consultation sets out a number of options for assessing this summer’s VTQs and general qualifications, including: 
  • alternative arrangements for those taking a mix of academic and vocational qualifications
  • arrangements for other qualifications such as the International Baccalaureate
  • practical assessments to demonstrate occupational competencies for employment and apprenticeships
  • on-demand assessments for functional skills
  • no core exams for T levels this summer 
  • internal assessment to go ahead remotely, where possible. 

Apprenticeship end-point assessments, Access to HE, and international GCSEs are not in the scope of this consultation.

Fairness and consistency 
The consultation raises a number of important points around fairness and consistency for all learners, especially those whose learning has been severely disrupted by lockdowns, or with unequal access to IT equipment and broadband. Also. there are important points to address around equity between those who took exams in January and those who didn’t, and around license to practice qualifications.

Further, there are issues about the demonstration of skills, standardisation of tasks, consistency of approach between internal and external assessments, adaptations used, and about grading and certification at all levels. Added to this is the cost and additional workload to providers. It is clear why exams should continue if students need to demonstrate specific skills to gain a qualification, but where this is not possible and they are adapted or delayed, differing practices may occur.

Challenges ahead
All adapted and delayed exams and assessments will need to be exceptionally well designed and totally consistent if fairness and equity are to be assured. This is a big challenge in the time available to the many and varied awarding bodies for VTQs and general qualifications. The appeals process, which caused some angst in the summer of 2020 must be effective and special considerations carefully thought through.

The approach proposed by Ofqual is not unlike that used in the summer of 2020 for some VTQs and assessments. Where things definitely didn’t work, such as consistency of approach between some awarding bodies, Ofqual has taken on board feedback and made some changes. However, the situation -overcomplicated by the government’s approach to January VTQ exams and assessments - will have created many different scenarios for learners which may not be accounted for in the proposals.

The support and guidance to schools and colleges and the quality assurance processes for VTQs and other general qualifications must be crystal clear to all concerned in order to ensure there is consistency and fairness in how grades and certification are awarded. This is a big and complex task which ASCL is happy to support. 

The consultation runs until 29 January and we seek feedback from members as to what is right for learners and teachers in terms of the proposals for this summer, as well as details of the impact of these proposals on specific groups of learners. Please contact me or Kevin Gilmartin if you would like to share your thoughts on this consultation. 

The consultation is available here until 11.45pm, 29 January 2021.

Dr Anne Murdoch OBE is ASCL Senior Advisor, College Leadership 
Posted: 20/01/2021 11:03:43