Schools and colleges in England given choice over whether to hold BTEC exams

5 January 2021, 19:09 | Updated: 5 January 2021, 19:49

File photo: Secretary of State for Education Gavin Williamson
File photo: Secretary of State for Education Gavin Williamson. Picture: PA

By Megan White

Schools and colleges in England will be given the choice over whether to run vocational exams due to take place this month, the Department for Education has said.

The decision came after the Government faced a backlash for telling BTEC students they "should attend as scheduled" any exams this month.

Previously, Boris Johnson said pushing ahead with all exams this summer "as normal" would not be possible, and he added that the Education Secretary will work with Ofqual to put in place "alternative arrangements".

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The DfE had said vocational exams in England - which include BTEC exams - would continue as planned this month.

But on Tuesday they handed the decision to schools and colleges, saying they could hold exams "where they judge it right to do so."

The Association of Colleges (AoC) said the decision let colleges decide for themselves whether to go ahead with vocational exams this month "leads to more uncertainty".

A DfE spokeswoman said: "In light of the evolving public health measures, schools and colleges can continue with the vocational and technical exams that are due to take place in January, where they judge it right to do so.

"We understand this is a difficult time but we want to support schools and colleges whose students have worked hard to prepare for assessments and exams where necessary.

"This may be particularly important for VTQs, which require a 'licence to practise' which can only be fulfilled through practical assessment, such as an electrician.

"Schools and colleges have already implemented extensive protective measures to make them as safe as possible.

"We will continue to work with Ofqual, awarding organisations and other stakeholders to discuss the next steps and provide more detail on the way forward, including ensuring other students have a way to progress with as little disruption as possible."

Responding to the DfE, David Hughes, chief executive of the AoC, said: "The risk is that this continues the confusion, leads to more uncertainty for every student and puts thousands of young people and their families at risk as well as the college staff managing the exams."

He added: "Every college leader has been spending all day trying to weigh up the pros and cons of cancelling or going ahead.

"They were hoping that the Government would be decisive, but that has not happened, and students will have to look locally for the leadership and certainty they seek.

"A national decision would have allowed for more fairness for all students across vocational and general qualifications - this compromise does not achieve that and I suspect that will cause more problems over the coming months. We are likely to see many colleges cancelling and some going ahead."