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"The most stressful and difficult period of my teaching career"

Journalism lecturer Nick Reinis-Keightley on how some of the staff and students at Peterborough College have coped during the exam fiasco
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Students have had a difficult time at colleges and schools up and down the country. Photo: PA

Move over social media - there’s a new morning routine in my household. It goes as follows - wake up, pick up phone, check awarding body website for updated grading 

And then, a quick look at social media in the vain hope of some overnight good news. From tomorrow, this could change when some of our BTEC students finally have their grades updated.

The much-publicised exam fiasco has dragged on now for a week-and-a-half. You’re likely familiar with the situation inflicted on schools and colleges for A Level results, but until the end of last week, an issue with BTEC grades had gone unnoticed. But, BTEC students are no less important and, while the A Level situation appears resolved, our concerns remain.

Pearson, the awarding body for BTEC qualifications, first revealed shortly after results were published that grades for L3 BTEC Nationals had largely been unaltered from centre assessed grades (CAGs).

This was excellent news for teaching staff at institutions across the country, who had worked incredibly hard to get those grades finalised, and a big relief for students, who no doubt would’ve seen the news reports about A Levels, their significant downgrading and feared the worst.

However, BTEC grades for thousands of L3 students remain in flux, thanks to what looks like an error in a convoluted calculation of any programme that features an examined unit (known as “external assessments”). This isn’t all BTEC courses, but nationally some 5,000 students appear to have been affected by this. These units were not be graded based solely on individual student performance, but instead on a vast array of data.

On the day before results would be seen by students, we found our internal units had been left as we had proposed, but for one of our examined units, the results were baffling. One of our highest performing students on a L3 programme had been given an UNCLASSIFIED grade for an examined unit and thus had FAILED their whole qualification.

We found 13 out of our 29 second year media students had achieved a Near Pass grade - that’s lower than a Pass, but they would still achieve their whole qualification and be able to progress to university or a job. So, nearly half of our students had been deemed by this calculation to have not been good enough to achieve a Pass grade.

To put that into context, never in the last two years had more than 15 per cent of our students achieved either a U or a Near Pass in the same exam. In fact, more than half usually achieve a Merit or a Distinction. We also found other students had also achieved lower than anticipated grades across other examined units.

The student given the fail would eventually be given a grade - a Near Pass - a few days later, with an apology, regarding the error. But, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to look at the stats in this paragraph to realise that a fundamental error had been made.

The stress and anxiety that this has caused had been unfathomable prior this summer’s results day - several students have contacted me with very serious concerns for their results and their progression options - this has never happened before. Our students have worked exceptionally hard for their grades and staff were tireless in the push to complete the new assessment process on time to ensure the right grades would be awarded this summer.

Our appeal was submitted on the afternoon of results day, but it was only on Wednesday at 4.30pm last week - nearly a week later - that Pearson revealed the examined units would be reviewed. In that statement, they also asked schools and college not to release results for BTEC L1 and L2 course the following day for the same reason.

While this was finally some good news for the L3 results from the previous week, it was a nightmare for institutions heading into GCSE results day. We had to unpick and undo everything we’d worked towards that day to be ready to release results to students for those qualifications, alongside our GCSE results.

I’ve worked in teaching now for eight years and it has easily been the most stressful and difficult period of any of those years. However, one thing that has remained has been the unequivocal support and utter determination of those in our institution to get things right, to keep students informed as best we could and to assist students with their progression. Peterborough College, prior to GCSE results day, had already decided to accept CAGs from prospective students for all our courses.

And we continue to be there for any student, no matter their results; with a broad curriculum, including HE courses at University Centre Peterborough, excellent staff and incredible industry resources - there are so many options for those looking to continue their educational path.

Pearson confirmed right at the end of last week that all eligible reviewed results would be available by Friday, August 28 - as a priority, they would start releasing them from tomorrow (Tuesday, August 25).

Hopefully, our students will get the grades they deserve - and I can go back to catching up on sports news as part of my morning routine. Finally then, this summer’s disastrous results day can be put to bed - but if there’s one positive to take from it, it’s that institutions like ours will adapt, evolve and deliver to meet our community’s need.

Nick Reinis-Keightley
Lecturer of Journalism
Peterborough College, part of Inspire Education Group