BTec exam board joins grades U-turn to use teacher assessment

Students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland hoping to use BTec qualifications to win university places have been given a lifeline after an examination board performed its own U-turn to scrap the flawed system it had used to award grades.

Pearson, which offers BTecs to 250,00 students, including around 100,000 sixth formers who take them as a vocational equivalent to A-levels, announced on Wednesday that it would now use internal assessments and marks to set the final results for each course, meaning many young people could be awarded higher grades.

However, Pearson’s decision means its level 2 BTec – equivalent to GCSEs – will not now be given to pupils on Thursday, as it will also be replaced by centre-assessed internal grades, causing school leaders hurriedly to rip up and reprint results slips.

Schools frustrated as BTec results caught up in exams fiasco

“We will work urgently with you to reissue these grades and will update you as soon as we possibly can. We want to reassure students that no grades will go down as part of this review,” said Cindy Rampersaud, Pearson’s vice-president for BTecs. “We appreciate this will cause additional uncertainty for students and we are sorry about this. Our priority is to ensure fair outcomes for BTec students in relation to A-levels and GCSEs and that no BTec student is disadvantaged.”

Kate Green, Labour’s shadow education secretary, said the delays in revising BTecs were “totally unacceptable”.

“Gavin Williamson and the Department for Education should have had a grip of this situation days ago. It’s appalling that thousands of young people should face further confusion and uncertainty because of the government’s incompetence,” Green said. “This repeated chaos is simply no way to run a country. The government must urgently set a clear deadline for every young person to receive their grades.”

School leaders and teachers in England had complained that the algorithm used by Pearson penalised high-achieving students, and paradoxically made it more likely that they would be treated harshly in the external assessments that replaced exams.

Several schools and teachers contacted the Guardian to say that because of the flaws, a substantial number of their pupils had received lower grades than their internal assessments had suggested and were in danger of missing out on university places.

Plympton academy, in Plymouth, said one of its students taking an engineering BTec was awarded distinctions in all four internally assessed units. But Pearson gave the course’s single external unit a U or fail grade, and the student was awarded a U overall rather than the expected top mark of a starred distinction.

While students taking A-levels this year had benefited from the U-turn by the exam regulator, Ofqual, which announced on Monday it was dropping calculated grades in favour of more generous school-assessed grades, those holding BTecs looked set to miss out.

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“Although we generally accepted centre assessment grades for internal units, we subsequently calculated the grades for the examined units using historical performance data with a view of maintaining overall outcomes over time. Our review will remove these calculated grades and apply consistency across teacher-assessed internal grades and examined grades that students were unable to sit,” Pearson said in a statement.

Ofqual confirmed the decision, saying: “Pearson, which initially did not think there would need to be significant changes made, has now decided to revise its arrangements to ensure that students’ qualification-level results better reflect the unit-level results that students have already secured through internally-assessed units.”

Meanwhile, the OCR exam board, which covers England, Wales and Northern Ireland, said that its Cambridge National results, which should have been published on Thursday along with GCSE results, would not be issued until next week.

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