As we all know, awarding for some vocational, technical and other general qualifications (VTQs) is going to be different in 2021. The ongoing effects of the pandemic mean that assessment, awarding, and even results days will continue to be far from ‘the norm’, and some young people who are taking VTQs this year may not know what it would be like to take their qualification under any other circumstance.
It sounds straightforward to say that Ofqual has put arrangements in place for VTQ awarding in 2021, that awarding organisations are putting a great deal of effort into assessment design, and that colleges, training providers and schools are working hard to ensure that learners can get their results.
We all know, however, the reality is that trying to deliver something different is not without its challenges, especially when we are all living and working within the necessary public health restrictions.
You might wonder what Ofqual knows about life ‘in the field’, or what we are doing to support colleges, training providers and schools. How does this all feel to staff in centres who are trying so hard to deliver what needs to be done to get results to their learners?
Every day we talk to college, training provider and school representative bodies (AoC, AELP, HOLEX, ASCL and SCFA) who give us much-needed information about VTQ awarding in 2021. We bring these groups together with membership bodies, like FAB and JCQ, to complement the conversations that awarding organisations are already having with their centres, to find out what the everyday experience is like. We also talk to many colleges, training providers and schools directly and we are formalising those relationships through our new Centre Reference Group. This comprises around 25 different colleges and training providers, whom we have asked to come together as a group so that we are able to seek views and provide clarity to the wider community when needed.
We are listening and acting on what we hear. We know colleges, training providers and schools are working hard to deliver what needs to be done this summer. We know they need clear guidance and support, and we monitor awarding organisations to ensure that they are providing this.
We also know centres find it frustrating that awarding organisations aren't all adopting a single approach to assessment and awarding results, but these differences reflect the complexity of the VTQ landscape. Unlike GCSEs and A levels there is no single approach to awarding that would work for all types of VTQs because of the very different qualification structures and assessment methods used.
Our Guidance for Centres: VTQs 2021 sets out some of the aspects that colleges, training providers and schools need to get to grips with so that their learners can receive results this year. It explains Ofqual’s requirements and what is expected of awarding organisations and centres throughout the whole process of awarding VTQs in 2021.
In the guide we outline the evidence that awarding organisations may require to support Teacher Assessed Grades (TAGs). We give examples of what this evidence might be, based on what is available and what awarding organisations consider most appropriate for that qualification. We also signpost to our information on making objective judgements to help with this process.
During our conversations with colleges and training providers we have received queries about the June 18 deadlines for TAGs and which qualifications this covers. The June 18 date is the JCQ deadline for GCSE and A level TAG submissions. To support consistency, some VTQ awarding organisations have chosen to use the same date, particularly where results for their qualifications are used to support progression to further or higher study.
We have also been asked why we have not provided a list of which awarding organisations are asking for TAGs on the 18 June. This is because many awarding organisations offer a wide range of qualifications, some of which will require TAGs to be submitted on 18 June, and some of which won’t. Some may have different deadlines for learners who are certificating or completing this summer, than for learners who are part way through their qualifications, so it’s not that straightforward. For those qualifications used alongside or instead of GCSEs, AS and A levels, many AOs have used the same date of 18 June for TAG submission.
The Department for Education (DfE) has decided that some results for level 2 qualifications should be issued no later than GCSEs on 12 August 2021 and results for level 3 qualifications should be issued no later than AS and A level results on 10 August 2021. In previous years very few VTQ results were issued to the same timescale as GCSEs and A levels. In fact, in a normal year, many are issued on a rolling basis or at various points in the year, which reflects the flexibility of the VTQ market. This will still be the case for some this year. Awarding organisations will confirm their results days with their centres.
The Guidance for Centres: VTQs 2021, outlines the quality assurance requirements we expect of awarding organisations and centres for TAGs - these measures not only give confidence to learners, parents, and the wider public, but will also give colleges and training providers reassurance that when they are making their objective, evidence-based judgements, others are doing the same.
It also covers what to do about learners who sat, or expected to sit, exams in January 2021, why some appeals processes may be different this year and why we are asking awarding organisations to extend existing autumn assessment opportunities to additional learners. We also explain why, where it is reasonable, we are asking AOs to consider offering an autumn / winter assessment opportunity, even if they don’t normally do so.
The guide also mentions the crucial topic of cyber-security. As some qualifications will be awarded based on TAGs this year, any cyber-attacks could have a serious impact. We expect centres and awarding organisations to be aware of this risk and take appropriate precautions such as making sure anti-viral and ransomware systems are up to date and regularly backing up data. If you would like further information, the National Cyber Security Centre has a range of practical advice and resources on improving cyber security in centres.
We know that teachers and lecturers will also need to be able to offer reassurance to parents and learners when awarding grades this year, and our other recent publication – The student guide to awarding – is there to help. It clarifies to wider audiences what will happen with VTQ awarding this year, and outlines what restrictions (and freedoms) colleges and training providers have when awarding grades.
We also published our qualifications explainer tool which enables centres and learners to easily search for qualifications and find information about how results will be determined for Ofqual-regulated qualifications this year.
So yes, VTQ awarding in 2021 will be different, and it will be a challenge, but it is the right approach for this year as it takes into account the differences between types of qualifications and how they will be awarded. By working together and maintaining our focus on the learner we can rise to that challenge and make it the best that it can possibly be for all VTQ learners.
Key dates to note:
18 June 2021: Deadline for the submission of Teacher Assessed Grades for GCSEs, AS and A levels. Some VTQ awarding organisations are also setting this as the date for the submission of Teacher Assessed Grades.
10 August 2021: Results day for A levels and some level 3 VTQs
12 August 2021: Results day for GCSEs and some level 2 VTQs
Claire Gill - Strategic Relationships VTQ