Warnings BTEC students could be 'squeezed out' by government grade U-turn

Video report by ITV News Correspondent Sejal Karia

The government's U-turn on A-level grades and a delay in many BTEC results being issued could risk students taking the vocational qualification and mature learnings being "squeezed out" of higher education, officials have warned.

Only a small number of results for students who took the vocational and technical qualifications will be reviewed following the government's about turn on its grading system.

But the government has been urged to ensure BTEC students and mature learners are not missing out on higher education as a result of the move - with BTEC students not included in the changes.

England's Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said the Department for Education was working with awarding body Pearson to extend the change to the vocational qualifications.

But education unions and the Labour Party have called on the government to provide clarity on why BTEC students had been left out in the first place.

On Tuesday, Mr Williamson announced that GCSE and A-level students would be able to receive grades based on their teachers' estimates following anger at the controversial algorithm used initially.

Pearson said the "very small number of grades" adjusted through the controversial algorithm will be reviewed on a "case by case basis" with their colleges.

Students have not been able to sit exams this year due to the coronavirus outbreak. Credit: David Jones/PA

However, the awarding body refused to tell ITV News how many students had been impacted by the delay.

On the delays, a spokesperson for the awarding body added: "We understand the frustration this must have caused. We are working closely with the students and colleges involved to look into this urgently and provide any outstanding results as soon as we can."

Around 0.5% of teachers' grades for BTEC students were downgraded, while nearly two in five A-level grades in England were reduced from schools' estimates

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Dr Greg Walker, chief executive at the MillionPlus group of universities said: "We must ensure that other learners and applicants are not forgotten."

He added: "These include BTEC and other applied generals students whose grades may now be delayed for a significant period to rightly ensure they will be on a par with A-level candidates."

Dr Walker also raised concerns for mature learners, who usually apply to university later in the Ucas (the Universities and Colleges Admissions System) cycle.

"Both the government and universities should ensure that these applicants don’t get squeezed out in these unprecedented circumstances," he said.

The National Union of Students (NUS) and the University and College Union (UCU) have also voiced concerns, writing to Mr Williamson about the issue.

Larissa Kennedy, NUS President, said there were still "many questions to be answered" around how BTEC students will be assessed.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson will hope this year’s results process runs more smoothly than last year’s Credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA

England’s exams regulator Ofqual has said its moderation approach used in A-levels and GCSEs was not used in the majority of vocational and technical qualifications (VTQs) – including BTECs.

But it said exam boards were reviewing a "small proportion of qualifications" which did use a statistical approach similar to the one used for A-levels, adding that they could be "regraded upwards".

The watchdog warned that there could be a delay for a small proportion of learners expecting results at Level 2 and below this Thursday, because these will need to be recalculated.

Students have reacted angrily to the controversy. Credit: PA

A Department for Education spokesperson said: "Our priority is to ensure all students are treated fairly, including those who received vocational and technical results last week, such as BTECs and Cambridge Technicals.

"These subjects are rightly assessed differently to A-levels, and the overwhelming majority of results are in line with centre assessment grades.

"A minority of vocational and technical qualifications used a statistical model similar to the one Ofqual used for A-levels and GCSEs, and Ofqual has asked these awarding organisations to review their approaches to make sure no student is disadvantaged."