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Gavin Williamson urged to sort out BTEC grades ‘as soon as possible’ as some are also affected by exam algorithm U-turn

The Education Secretary has said he is ‘determined’ to stay in post. (PA)

5 min read

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson is being urged to ensure thousands of pupils get their revised BTEC results “as soon as possible” as it was confirmed that some of the career-based qualifications will be affected by a major U-turn on grading.

Tory MP Rob Halfon, who chairs the cross-party Commons Education Committee, told PoliticsHome “urgent discussions” were taking place between the Department for Education and exam provider Pearson over the issue.

It was not initially clear on Monday evening whether BTECs, which offer students hands-on, in-work qualifications, would be affected by a major shift in the Government’s approach to awarding further education grades in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Williamson has been under mounting political pressure after announcing that a controversial algorithm used to calculate this summer’s A-Level and GCSE grades in place of exams would be ditched and replaced by teacher assessments.

The move came amid a major backlash from pupils, teachers and senior Conservatives at downgraded results, and Labour on Tuesday demanded to know why BTEC students had been “excluded” from the change in policy “when many of them will have applied to university and are in the same position as their A-Level counterparts”.

But exams provider Pearson, which oversees many BTEC qualifications, issued a statement confirming that while the courses “were not subject to the same statistical moderation process as A Levels”, some grades had been adjusted and would now be reviewed.

Pearson’s senior vice-president for BTEC and Apprenticeships Cindy Rampersaud said: “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...

“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.”

She added: “It has been an incredibly difficult time for students, teachers and colleges. Our priority this summer has always been to ensure students are able to progress to the next stage in their lives – whether education or employment.”


Mr Halfon, who has been critical of the Government’s handling of the A-Level row, said around 2% of the estimated 250,000 students who had done BTECs could be affected by the change — a far smaller proportion than those hit by the A-level calculation.

“That 2%, however, have been affected and there are urgent discussions going on with the Secretary of State and Pearson to try and sort it out,” he told PoliticsHome.

Mr Halfon added: “The issue, of course, is whether or not they’re able to get their first choices and their next steps, whether its university or apprenticeships or whatever because they’re still waiting for it to be sorted.”

And the Conservative backbencher said: “It’s got to be sorted out as soon as possible. 

“BTECs have been in some way the gold standard of all this because as I understand it, most of the grades, 98% of BTEC pupils, have had their correct grades and weren’t subject to this strange algorithm in the same way.

“However, we need to sort out the 2% of BTEC students as soon as possible.”

The Education Secretary told BBC Breakfast his department was “working with Pearson” on the 2% of results that had been “moderated down from the teacher assessment”.

Mr Williamson added: “We're working with Pearson, those who operate the BTEC system, and they're going to be reviewing all of those grades.

“And we'll expect there to be a consistency across the board.”

In a statement issued on Tuesday afternoon, exams regulator Ofqual said: "A small proportion of qualifications did use a statistical standardisation approach  similar to the one used for  A-levels, and those awarding organisations are reviewing  their approach  in light of what was been decided about GCSEs and A levels yesterday.

"As a result, we are starting to see them re-running their awarding processes, to ensure that learners are not disadvantaged when compared to their peers taking GCSEs and A levels. We think that a small proportion of Level 3 VTQ results that were issued last week will be regraded upwards as a result."

The regulator said there was also a "small proportion of results at Level 2 and below which are due for issue this Thursday that will need to be recalculated".

They added: "It is possible that they may not be available until a few days later than expected and any awarding organisations in this position will provide information as soon as possible about when this will be."


The confirmation on BTECs came amid mounting calls for Boris Johnson to sack his embattled Education Secretary. 

In a letter to the Prime Minister, Liberal Democrats education spokesperson Layla Moran said: "Gavin Williamson must resign, and if he refuses to go you must sack him.

"As prime minister, you must also personally apologise for the shambles that your government has presided over."

She added: "The grading by postcode fiasco has already caused irrevocable damage to trust in the exams system.

"Unless a clear signal is sent that the government is accepting responsibility for this failure, this trust will be eroded further."

But Mr Williamson on Tuesday signalled he would not be quitting over the row, saying he was "focused on delivering the grades for those children" affected by the change of tack.

And he said: “We're going to make sure that all schools return [in September].

“And I'm absolutely determined, over the coming year, that I'm going to be delivering the world's best education system.

“The improvements and reforms that we've made on over the last 10 years, they need to be built on, that's what our focus is, on that's what my focus is on, and that's what the Prime Minister's focus is on.”

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