BTEC chaos as Blair wades in

200,000 students were due to get their BTEC Level 3 final grades at the same time as A-level pupils on Thursday. The awarding body, the education conglomerate Pearson, says only a “very small percentage” of students have experienced a delay, but has not put a figure on those affected as more results are still being issued. (The FT (22/08) reported there were still “thousands”). The company also appeared to point the blame at schools and colleges saying that final grades cannot be awarded if unit (module) grades are “missing” – meaning they hadn’t been provided by centres. There’s also been a problem with Cambridge Technical results, a BTEC type qualification awarded by OCR.

Though media attention has focussed on BTEC students missing out on university offers, in most cases this is unlikely to happen – though BTEC students can’t be blamed for being extremely anxious. BTECs use continuous assessment and so students (and universities) have a realistic expectation about what will be attained by August results day – students relying on vocational qualifications tend to be excluded from ‘selective’ and Russell universities anyway. The same can’t be said for BTEC students relying on clearing however.

Most BTECs due to lose their funding in the coming months, as government clears the way for T-levels. For those seeking to prevent this, the negative publicity couldn’t have happened at a worse time. Tory ministers aren’t exactly running to resolve the problems, while Pearson already has already secured lucrative contracts to provide T-levels.  

T-level results were issued to the first cohort of students (just over a thousand) on results day last Thursday, showing a 90% plus pass rate. It’s too early to draw any conclusions about their future viability – most of the successful candidates are reported to have completed their work placements, the area where there is most concern. And according to the DfE 70 %, are progressing to university – though there’s no further details about this.  T level results are being carefully managed!

Meanwhile, in the wake of last Thursday’s results, attention has focussed on performance levels between different areas of the country (40% of students sitting their exams in the south-east and London – the two most affluent English regions – achieved A* or A grades this year, the same was true of just 31% of those sitting exams in the north-east. the gap between the north-east and London was slightly less than four percentage points in 2019, it is now 8.2 points, the north-east/south-east gap grew from 5.3 points to 8.7 points over the same period). But also, between different sectors. Fee-paying students (58%) achieved either an A* or an A, compared with 35% of those attending academies and 30.7% of those in state comprehensives. While that is a smaller gap than in 2021, it is worse than in 2019.

STEM entries increase.

There has also, at least in England, been a continuation of a broader subject trend towards science, technology, engineering and mathematics (The number of students taking Stem subjects – biology, chemistry, computing, design and technology, mathematics, physics and “other sciences” – rose by 3.5% compared with in 2019). Conversely, those choosing humanities subjects – the three English A-levels, geography and history – dropped by 3.3% in the same period while English has fallen out of the top 10 most popular subjects in England for the first time. A 20% fall since 2018, being replaced by economics. This can only be interpreted as indicating which subjects’ students consider to be the most ‘useful’ in a declining economy and a failing labour market.

Blair is back

education is ‘too narrow’

To cap a very difficult few days for young people, Tony Blair, the instigator of the performance-based exam culture (remember ‘education, education, education’) before the Tories took it to a new level, now argues that A-levels (and GCSEs) should be abolished and replaced by a ‘low stakes’ system of continued assessment (just like the BTECs!) Blair told the Telegraph that current qualifications only measure certain skills, and they invite narrow teaching styles aimed at passing tests rather than building other key aptitudes. He should know.

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