NEWS
18/08/2020 13:10 BST

BTec Students Wait For Answers After Being Left Out Of The Government's Exams U-Turn

Education secretary Gavin Williamson said the government was working with the awarding body Pearson to review grades.

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Thousands of students on vocational courses across England are still waiting for answers over their grades after the government left out BTec Nationals results in Monday’s major U-turn.

In a humiliating climbdown following a furious backlash over a computer algorithm used by Ofqual that saw the A-level grades of almost 40% of students downgraded, the government said A-level and GCSE results will be scrapped and replaced with teachers’ predicted grades.

But the 250,000 students taking vocational qualifications under the Business and Technology Education Council (BTec) were not included, despite many being subject to the same flawed algorithm.

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Students marched to the constituency office of their local MP, education secretary Gavin Williamson, on Monday ahead of the U-turn.

Neve Hutchinson, 17, from Leamington Spa, had expected to receive a Distinction* grade for her BTec in Health and Social Care after getting Distinctions in her coursework pieces as well as in her mock exams. As her final exam was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, she was unable to complete her last exam.

She said she felt “over the moon” when she first received her A-level results of BB on Thursday morning but then “gutted” when was awarded a Merit for her BTec result. “It was the subject I had no issues with whatsoever and was convinced I would get the grade I deserved in,” she told HuffPost UK.

Her downgraded BTec result meant she missed her conditional offer of DistinctionBC to study psychology at Loughborough University, despite doing better in her A-levels that she had expected.

“I feel absolutely devastated,” she said. “University was never a plan for me before I started taking my A-levels, but when I decided that it was the path I wanted to take I worked so incredibly hard to achieve what I knew I deserved.”

She had been “praying” that the government would include BTecs in Monday’s announcement, but said she had been “let down so frequently in the past few days”.

“What they have done to BTecs is incredibly unfair, but they’re doing it because BTecs are commonly taken by working-class students, so they’re just desperately trying to increase that divide and stop these students from getting to their next step in education.”

Although Loughborough University has told her it will hold her place until the beginning of September, she says her chance of “getting to my dream destination” is “seeming slimmer and slimmer”.

“I feel as if all my hard work is worthless, as for my BTec it has well and truly been thrown back in my face,” she added.

On Tuesday education secretary Gavin Williamson said the government was working with the awarding body Pearson – who runs BTecs – to review the grades. 

He previously said he was “hoping” BTec results would be included in the U-turn over results.

Speaking at a briefing on Monday evening, Williamson told reporters: “We’re very much hoping that this will be actually encompassing BTecs. We’re just working with the awarding authorities to make sure that that’s the case, and I think there’s got to be absolute parity and fairness right across the spectrum.”

A spokesperson at Pearson told HuffPost UK they would be reviewing a “very small number of grades that were adjusted” by the algorithm on a case by case basis, adding that students who were unhappy with their final grade could appeal.

On Monday evening, the government released a statement saying because the statistical standardisation approach that was used for A-levels only applied to some BTec qualifications, it would be up to the individual awarding organisations to “review their approach”. 

“In only a very few cases has the same kind of statistical standardisation process of Centre Assessment Grades (CAGs) been used – in other words, we think there are few qualifications where the cohort has received entirely algorithmically determined grades,” it said.

“For the small number of qualifications that have used a statistical standardisation approach similar to the Ofqual model for A-levels and GCSEs, we have asked awarding organisations to review their approach. This is likely to mean a small proportion of VTQ results will be reissued.”

The mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, who threatened Ofqual with legal action over downgraded results, tweeted his support for BTEC students on Monday night.

A spokesperson from Burnham’s office told HuffPost UK the letter had been sent prior to the U-turn announcement and they were awaiting a response from Ofqual.

Also fighting on behalf of BTec students was Jolyon Maugham, director of the Good Law Project, who said his organisation was looking into issues with BTec grades.

“Our lawyers will be writing to Ofqual and Pearson shortly asking for more detail of the standardisation process for BTec students,” he told HuffPost. “We are aware of concerns around other technical qualifications too.

“Students studying for technical qualifications are also entitled to efficient, fair and accurate grades.”

Alice de Coverley, an education barrister who was counsel in one of the Ofqual judicial review challenges which brought about the U-turn, said the lack of clarity of BTec results would disproportionately affect pupils with special educational needs and disabilities.

“Waiting for these results, and the major uncertainty about how these results may change and affect their future, is having a profoundly detrimental impact on these young people,” she told HuffPost UK.

In a statement released on Tuesday morning, Pearson said: “BTecs are structured very differently to A-levels, and so the approach to awarding is also different. BTecs were not subject to the same statistical moderation process as A levels.

“BTecs comprise modular units that students complete and are assessed at regular stages during their course of study, so prior to March 2020, students had already banked graded units for their qualification. As we do every year, this year we asked centres to submit all the grades for the internal assessment units that had been completed as well as any grades for units still to be completed. These were accepted with very little change following quality assurance checks. They then formed part of the evidence, alongside previously completed assessment unit grades, to award grades for the externally assessed units and the final overall qualification grade.

“For the very small number of grades that were adjusted, we will be reviewing them on a case by case basis with centres following the same principles as those announced today. This is why we have seen very stable outcomes for BTec and other vocational qualifications. As in every year, students unhappy with their final grade can appeal.”