This summer thousands of students will be receiving results for qualifications that are recognised as level 3 Applied Generals or Tech levels. They are offered by a range of awarding organisations, and include branded qualifications such as BTECs and Cambridge Technicals, as well as a number of level 3 diplomas and certificates.
Some of the qualifications they are offering this summer are relatively new and have been designed to comply with the Department for Education’s performance table rules. They have been developed in different ways, but one of the features they all have in common is that at least 30% (at least 40% for Applied Generals) of the assessment is externally set and marked by the awarding body.
Awarding organisations also designed their new qualifications to meet official guidelines that students would have to pass every externally assessed unit to be awarded the qualification. In some circumstances this approach might create an unfair disadvantage for students, in comparison with those taking older versions of the qualifications or A levels, when applying for university places.
By way of example, some of the larger qualifications (equivalent in size to three A levels) would currently require students to pass all four externally assessed units. If they fail one unit, even by one mark, they will fail the whole qualification. There is no such ‘must-pass’ requirement in the older versions of these qualifications, or in A levels. In those qualifications, students can compensate for poor performance in one unit with better performance in another.
In some of the Tech levels, requiring students to pass every unit is essential for the validity of the qualification. Where a qualification aims to demonstrate competence in a particular area – childcare or catering, for example – then it will be important that students demonstrate a minimum level of competence in each unit.
However, in the Applied Generals, which tend to cover broader subject areas such as sport and PE, business or applied science, there is no expectation that students will demonstrate occupational competence. The must-pass ‘hurdle’ means that a student who performs at merit or distinction in three out of four units but just fails the fourth will fail the overall qualification. In contrast, a student who just passes all four units will likely pass the qualification. Students taking these new qualifications will be competing for university places with students taking the older versions of BTECs and Cambridge Technicals or A levels in the same subject areas, where there are no such hurdles. A student taking older versions of the qualifications, or taking A levels, has to achieve enough overall to pass the qualification. Without the changes being made, it would have meant that the Applied General student would have to score enough marks overall and pass every externally-assessed unit. That would have been unfair.
We have therefore asked all the awarding organisations offering these qualifications to revisit those ‘must pass’ requirements in their qualifications. In many qualifications, the awarding organisations have told us that they are necessary. In other cases, they have told us that they will make changes, to provide a safety net for those students who just miss a pass on some of the externally-assessed units. We are working with the awarding organisations to make sure that this is done fairly across those qualifications where changes are being made. This is as well as awarding organisations allowing an additional re-sit for the externally-assessed units to count towards the final qualification grade.
Implications for schools/colleges and students
So what does this mean for schools and colleges preparing students for these qualifications? Firstly, not all qualifications are changing. Those awarding organisations making changes will very shortly be publishing more information about the changes and will be communicating with their centres. Different awarding organisations have different qualification structures and are making changes in different ways. Schools and colleges should, therefore, make sure they know what, if any, changes are being made in the qualifications they are offering.
Where changes are made, this does not mean that every student will pass. It means students who just miss a pass on one or more externally-assessed units will not be prevented from passing the qualification, provided they achieve sufficient marks on other units. But if they do not achieve enough marks in other units, they will still fail. This puts the Applied General qualifications on a similar footing with other qualifications being used for university entrance. We and the awarding organisations think that makes it a fairer situation for students this summer.
Associate Director for Standards and Comparability