While hundreds of thousands of teenagers are receiving their GCSE results today (Thursday 20th August), those awaiting their BTec results will have to wait a little longer, as 2020’s exam chaos also spreads to these qualifications.
After a furious backlash against exam regulators’ moderation process this year, students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are today receiving GCSE grades assessed by their schools after a flawed algorithm used by the regulators (Ofqual and OCR) was finally scrapped.
Now, Pearson, the regulator for BTec qualifications, which have been taken by approximately 500,000 students this year (including 250,000 sixth formers who study them as vocational equivalents to A-levels), has performed its own U-turn and also ditched its moderation algorithm.
However, because the decision wasn’t taken until Wednesday evening, students studying for Level 2 BTec (a GCSE equivalent) will not be receiving their results as originally planned today.
School leaders have been left scrambling to dispose of earlier, Pearson-moderated results slips and print new ones bearing the centre-assessed grades instead.
A statement issued by Pearson explained that its algorithmically moderated results this year “had been generally consistent with teacher and learner expectations, but we have become concerned about unfairness in relation to what are now significantly higher outcomes for GCSE and A-levels”.
The regulator’s VP for BTecs, Cindy Rampersaud, promised schools and students that Pearson would update them at the earliest possible point and apologised for the extra uncertainty that the delay will cause for students.
Pearson’s priority, she added, was to ensure fair outcomes so that “no BTec student is disadvantaged”.
Describing the BTec result delay as “totally unacceptable”, Labour’s shadow education secretary Kate Green criticised the Department for Education and Gavin Williamson for failing to sort this all out days ago.
She described the additional confusion and uncertainty now inflicted on thousands of young people by government “incompetence” as “appalling”.
She added: “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.”
Pearson appears to have yielded to complaints from school leaders in England that its algorithm was penalising high-achieving students and, ironically, increased the likelihood that they would receive harsher treatment in the external assessments replacing exams this year.
The Guardian newspaper has received a number of calls from teachers saying that a significant proportion of their BTec students had been given lower grades than those based on internal assessments and were now at risk of losing the university places they had been offered.
Plympton Academy in Plymouth, for example, told the newspaper that one of its students who had taken a BTec in engineering had been awarded distinctions in each of the course’s four internally assessed units.
However, when Pearson graded the student’s single external unit, they awarded it a ‘U’ (fail), which was also the grade they gave overall, thereby failing a student who was on course to receive the top-tier result of a starred distinction.
The silver lining for BTec students still waiting for their results is that the ‘centre assessment grades’ or ‘CAGs’ they will now receive are likely to be significantly higher, as it is generally the case that teachers and schools are inclined to give pupils the benefit of the doubt during assessments and award more optimistic grades.