Worried Btec students call on Government to reverse ‘absurd’ exam decision

Concerned students have criticised the Government’s “absolutely absurd” decision to allow Btec exams to continue while England is in national lockdown.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson confirmed in Parliament on Wednesday that GCSE, AS and A-level exams would be replaced by teacher assessments this summer, but for many Btec students the situation was less clear.

The Department for Education has left the decision of whether to continue with vocational exams, scheduled to take place from this week, in the hands of individual schools and colleges.

The decision has led to confusion and uncertainty for some students, with Labour among those calling on the tests to be axed completely.

Jay Cunningham, who is taking a Btec in IT and is scheduled to take four exams, told the PA news agency: “I don’t understand how they could see it as sensible to cancel exams in four to five months’ time and not have any regard for the ones going on this month.

Btec student Jay Cunningham
Btec student Jay Cunningham

“I feel it’s absolutely absurd that they’re just not regarding the students’ health at all, or their families’, or the teachers’, or the invigilators’.

“I’m really worried about going in and putting my mum at risk.”

Ms Cunningham, from Reading, said that while her college was still planning to hold exams, starting this week, she did not think she would attend.

The 17-year-old cited “having to sit in a non-ventilated exam room for two-plus hours at a time” as a concern.

She added: “To get to my sixth form I need to take two different buses for 30 minutes each and I feel as if it is just not worth it.”

Pearson, which operates the Btec exams, said its priority was “to ensure fairness for all BTEC students”.

It is understood that the company will aim to ensure any students who feel it is unsafe to travel in for exams will be able to resit at another time or receive a teacher assessment.

In a statement, the company said: “If learners are unable to take the assessment this January then they may be able to sit the exam at a later date.

“In the event that is not possible then we will continue to work with DfE and Ofqual to put in place arrangements to ensure that they are not disadvantaged.”

Laquan Copeland, from Walsall, said the decision should be taken out of the hands of individual institutions.

Btect student Laquan Copeland
Btect student Laquan Copeland

The 18-year-old told PA: “I want to see the Department for Education direct Pearson to cancel all exams to make it fair and give teacher-assessed grades.

“They need to make one clear, direct decision.”

Mr Copeland is due to take business and law exams next week but said he does not think he will attend.

“I don’t think I feel comfortable going in,” he said. “Pearson hasn’t been clear what would happen to those students who choose not to go in individually, even if the school keeps them going on. They haven’t addressed that.

“If my family don’t want me to go because it’s a risk to them as well, then what do we go with?”

Negeen Hassan said she did not believe exams should be going ahead anyway because of the amount of schooling some students have missed during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Negeen Hassan
Negeen Hassan

Ms Hassan, 17, is taking a mixture of A levels and Btecs and is due to take a performing arts exam next week.

“I missed two weeks of school and I think I’m one of the lucky people in that other people missed I think a whole two months,” she told PA.

“My performing arts exam is an external paper and, being at home with no good communication with your teachers or your peers, you’re isolated and just stuck at the point where you’re thinking am I even going to pass?”

Ms Hassan, from north west London, said it was “really, really disappointing” to be put in the situation of having to decide whether or not she would attend her exam.

“I am so scared to go into school,” she said.

“From September, even when the cases weren’t as high as today, I was scared to go in.

“I live with vulnerable people, I don’t want to go in when the government says there’s a new Covid strain that is more easily transmissible.”

Mr Williamson defended the decision to continue with exams, saying: “There are many colleges that know for their students’ future prospects that they need to complete those assessments during this month if they are going to be able to access work and employment opportunities.”