What the Ofqual Announcement Means for Centres in Northern Ireland

Published: 26/02/2021, 3:00pm

Ofqual has announced its direction for awarding organisations offering vocational qualifications. This is important for NI learners taking vocational qualifications with English awarding organisations, as the direction will also apply to Northern Ireland. It is important that there is alignment with the arrangements for awarding vocational qualifications as this protects comparability and portability of qualifications taken by learners in Northern Ireland.

The diverse nature of vocational qualifications means that one approach to awarding cannot be taken. Different approaches will be taken for 2 broad categories of qualifications: Category A qualifications and Category B qualifications.

Category A qualifications include:

  • those that signal occupational or professional competency, proficiency, or act as a licence to practise. Results can only be awarded when assessments (exams or internal assessments) have taken place. Assessments may be made available as normal or with adaptations. However, some assessments may be delayed where necessary to comply with public health guidance.

Category B qualifications include the following:

  • those VTQs that are used for progression in the same way as GCSEs and A levels to further or higher education. Exams for these VTQs will not go ahead and results will be awarded using a teacher assessed grade submitted by the centre, similar to the arrangements for awarding GCSEs and AS or A levels. This will apply to many VTQs such as BTECs, Cambridge Nationals and Technicals, Technical Awards and Technical Certificates; and
  • those smaller qualifications that are not like GCSEs or A levels in their structure, such as ESOL Skills for Life. Exams and assessments for these qualifications will continue remotely, or in person, in line with public health measures. Where assessments cannot take place on public health grounds or remotely, teacher assessed grades for awarding will be made available.

Essential Skills

The Ofqual announcement does not pertain to Essential Skills which is a Northern Ireland only qualification. However, Essential Skills has adopted a centre determined grade approach, similar to Ofqual’s teacher assessed grade, where the teacher/lecturer/tutor will determine an outcome for each learner based on trusted sources of evidence. The awarding organisations offering Essential Skills will implement a quality assurance process following submission of outcomes from centres.

What Next?

Awarding organisations are now required to provide clear and timely guidance to centres on the assessment and awarding approaches to be implemented, timing on when centres need to submit information, the records that they should maintain and on the nature of any centre-based quality assurance.

It is important that centres look out for and pay careful attention to Awarding Organisation guidance and information for the qualifications their centre provides to learners. If centres need clarification or have any issues with the Awarding Organisation assessment and awarding approach, they should contact their awarding organisation immediately so that clarification can be provided.

An interactive ‘explainer tool’ will be made available in a few weeks so that teachers, tutors, learners and parents will be able to find out quickly how results for relevant qualifications will be awarded this year. This will be a similar tool to the one that was made available over the summer and will be accessed on the Ofqual website at:

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