gradient overlay

Grade awards for technical and vocational qualifications in summer 2021

Open letter from Lord Baker to Dame Glenys Stacey, Acting Chief Regulator and CEO – Ofqual

16 November 2020

Dear Dame Glenys,

Grade awards for technical and vocational qualifications in summer 2021

On behalf of University Technical Colleges (UTCs), I am writing to ask Ofqual to reconsider the requirement for students to complete all course assessments when taking vocational qualifications this year to be allocated a grade.

The 48 UTCs across England offer a distinctive technical curriculum through the provision of Level 2 and 3 technical and vocational qualifications such as those awarded by OCR (Cambridge National and Technicals) and Pearson (BTECs).

These qualifications use an approach which is fundamentally different to that applied to GCSEs or A levels. With GCSEs, for example, knowledge omitted in one syllabus area can be compensated by that in another, and a grade can be awarded based on the overall performance in examination. At the same time, should the average marks achieved by students in this year’s examinations fall below those of previous years, then grade boundaries can be adjusted to provide ‘fair grades’ based on historic national outcomes. One way or another, with GCSEs or A levels, students will be awarded a grade.

However, Cambridge Nationals/Technicals and BTEC awards are built from a prescribed set of units, or assessments, each representing a distinct ‘hurdle’. Therefore, failure to complete one of these hurdles will result in no grade being awarded overall. This significant difference to GCSEs etc., must be considered if Ofqual is to ensure fair grades for all students across all qualifications. It is only right that an alternative approach for technical and vocational qualifications is considered.

At the same time, all vocational and technical qualifications have a minimum number of guided learning hours prescribed. This year it is highly likely that those guided learning hour requirements will not be met because of the ongoing disruption to learning. Feedback from UTCs, despite being well-placed to provide blended learning, suggests this is the case. A significant problem is the irregular nature of student absence and engagement across classes meaning they do not all miss the same sequence of learning. Therefore, progression is severely impeded. Thus, our Principals consider that there is not enough time (despite the three-week delay to examinations) to cover all the prescribed guided learning hours.

The most straightforward way to mitigate this problem, whilst treating all students fairly, would be to reduce the number of units for technical and vocational qualifications on which a grade can be awarded in the 2021 examination series. This approach has already been proposed by the Awarding Bodies and Baker Dearing considers it to be entirely appropriate, justified, and fair.

As this is such an important matter, I am making this letter open for other educational establishments to read.

I look forward to receiving your comments.

Kind regards,
Yours sincerely

Chairman, Baker Dearing Educational Trust

Jill Duffy, Chief Executive, OCR
David Savidge, OCR Consortia
Rod Bristow, President UK & Global Online Learning, Pearson
Cindy Rampersaud, Senior Vice President, Pearson BTEC and Apprenticeships