Complex Covid-19 assessment adaptations, poor communication from exam boards and an influx of inexperienced exams officers were to blame for “unacceptable” delays to thousands of level 2 and 3 results this summer, two new reports suggest.

Ofqual this morning reported that nearly 21,000 students didn’t receive their results in August as expected, prompting the exams watchdog to outline a series of measures to prevent a repeat in 2023.

The two awarding organisations at the centre of the controversy – Pearson and OCR – have today published their own reports on the errors.

They have pledged to introduce check points with colleges, schools and providers during term time to establish any missing data earlier, and invest in more training for teachers and exam staff through complex systems.

Pearson’s report says it will also release results under embargo around a week before the results are released, rather than 24 hours before.

OCR meanwhile, which had just under 11,000 delayed results, has promised to review risk logs for Cambridge Technicals more regularly and conduct a review of staff expertise, as well as bolster relationships with schools and colleges.

The earlier results, check points, training and improved communication measures were announced by Ofqual this morning.

Both Pearson and OCR will also be represented on a new taskforce of sector leaders to implement new measures in time for summer 2023.

A Pearson spokesperson said they look forward to working with the education community on the improvements.

“It was unacceptable that some students did not receive their results when they were expecting them this summer, and we apologise for Pearson’s role in this,” they added.

OCR chief executive Jill Duffy said the promised improvements “will not only prevent a recurrence, but improve the wider experience for students, parents, schools and colleges.”

Pearson was at the centre of the storm in August as thousands of BTEC students reported showing up on results day to find an empty box where their final grade should have been. Just under 10,000 results were delayed.

The awarding body’s review, led by former Education and Training Foundation chief executive David Russell, describes how missing or incomplete data from colleges and schools on students’ exams and coursework results led to most of the delays.

Administration processes were “more complex than usual” because students completing BTECs had experienced a range of adaptations to their assessments due to the pandemic – all of which came with additional requirements on teachers and centres.

Pearson also cite survey evidence from the National Association of Examinations Officers stating that 22 per cent of exams officers were new in post in 2022, suggesting a large proportion of the exams workforce wasn’t experienced enough to handle “complex data collation processes”.

Pearson has said that 55 per cent of the delayed results came from just 7 per cent of its centres, which those impacted most tending to offer large numbers of BTEC programmes or have many sites.

One of the criticisms of exam boards at the time was that errors in data supplied by centres was not spotted and fixed prior to results day.

Pearson said it alerted all centres that had missing grades, but the report found it needs to improve “how we communicate” about missing data and “check more carefully” that requests are being actioned.

OCR meanwhile said it was not apparent there were issues until results day itself. Most delayed results were provided within a week, but “some complex cases took until 7 September”.

The report said that the Covid adaptations – which included teacher-assessed grades, reduced assessment in coursework and allowance of assessed grades for students who couldn’t sit exams – in conjunction with a “significant increase in missing and incomplete results” was behind the issue.


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