BTec: 'Welsh solution needed' for qualifications

By Sian Elin Dafydd
BBC News

  • Published
A young woman puts together a car dashboardImage source, Getty Images
Image caption,
BTecs are vocational qualifications which provide work-based skills

A "made in Wales" solution is needed to tackle issues with qualifications as students await BTec results, the head of Colleges Wales has said.

Iestyn Davies said more needed to be done to support students with an increase in Wales-specific vocational courses being introduced next year.

BTec results were delayed by exam board Pearson last week, leaving thousands awaiting their marks for the year.

Pearson apologised for the delay and said no grades would be lowered.

Grading was delayed by Pearson to give the board more time to recalculate the grades after A-level and GCSE results were changed to be based on teacher estimates.

All results will be issued by Friday.

However, vocational grades from the WJEC exam board were issued last Thursday.

Education Minister Kirsty Williams has apologised for the way some results have been handled and the Welsh Government will conduct an independent review.

Mr Davies said it was imperative Ms Williams set out clearly and quickly the terms of her review to make sure Wales was equipped to tackle any future issues which may affect students.

Why is there a call for a 'Welsh solution'?

There are 22,000 different vocational courses available in Wales - awarded by 97 different bodies.

Qualifications need to be "portable" and recognised across the UK so students can work wherever they want.

But there are also regulations, legislation and policies which apply differently across the world of work in Wales.

So a knowledge of these - and how they apply to working in construction or health and social care, for example - is important and this is reflected in how courses are being designed.

Some experts also believe there is an advantage to Wales being less reliant on exam regulators over the border.

Iestyn Davies
BBC
The whole point of devolution and having a body like Qualifications Wales is to get things right for Wales. We have to be bold and be prepared to learn the lessons
Iestyn Davies
Chief executive, Colleges Wales

Colleges Wales says this provides an opportunity - and could also now provide assurances for students working towards future qualifications - that they can avoid the "agony" of delays faced by this year's students.

"We'll have even more vocational qualifications next year that are specific to Wales," said Mr Davies.

"Each year as we progress through the work Qualifications Wales has put together, more and more qualifications delivered in our colleges and schools will be unique to Wales, therefore we need a 'made in Wales' solution to a problem, which has, in fairness, existed across the UK."

"The challenge now for Qualifications Wales, the regulator, for awarding bodies working in Wales and the government is to get it right and get it right for young people in Wales."

What is a BTec?

BTecs are vocational qualifications which provide work-based skills across areas including business, healthcare and engineering.

They are assessed over the course of the qualification through exams, practical coursework and, in many cases, work-based placements.

'It's frustrating for all of my classmates'

Image caption,
Ellie Kidd is one of 6,500 Btec students in Wales still waiting for results

Up to 6,500 students in Wales are currently waiting for their delayed results.

Ellie Kidd, from Bagillt, Flintshire, who studies travel and tourism at Coleg Cambria near Wrexham, is one of those waiting.

"I haven't a clue what either of my predicted grades are," she said.

"It's been extremely stressful and weighed on my mind quite a bit.

"It's frustrating for all of my classmates. We've had the news about A-levels and GCSEs but nothing on Btec.

"We're due to be starting back between 1-4 September and getting stuff ready."

Fellow Btec student Sam Boyer, 18, has received his level 3 grades but they were lower than his predicted ones and he feels his life is on hold.

"So there was sadness, stress, confusion - about having to do an extra year," he said about his initial reaction.

"I'm hoping my results might change or that we get more communication and information."

Image caption,
Dr Jennifer May Hampton said students were facing unnecessary stress

Dr Jennifer May Hampton, a research associate at Cardiff University, said vocational qualifications were an often overlooked yet important part of what was a "complicated" educational landscape in Wales.

"Whilst much of the attention has been focused on A-level results over the last few weeks, it is important to point out that the majority of young people in post-16 education in Wales are taking some form of vocational qualification," she said.

She said level three qualifications such as BTecs were equivalent to A-levels and could be used as entry to university.

Dr Hampton said the issue around BTecs results this summer was not just the fairness within the qualification itself, but they were understandably looking at them again so results compared fairly with the re-graded A-levels and GCSEs.

But she said the extended period of delay and the "drip-feeding of results to students" was leading to "unnecessary uncertainty and stress for these individuals".

"The main thing from this whole scenario is that there are lessons to be learnt going forward."

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