Over the past 24 hours we have been contacted by students, college leaders, headteachers and parents who are confused and alarmed that the Government announced a full national lockdown - including school and college closures - while maintaining that BTEC exams should continue as planned in January.
As Mayors of regions that have been under restrictions for significant periods of time, we know only too well the challenges that our schools and colleges have faced in delivering teaching, while having to cope with repeated disruption as a result of coronavirus outbreaks.
It is unfair to ask these students to go into colleges when everyone else is being told to stay at home and schools and colleges are closed to the majority of students. This will cause unnecessary anxiety and concern just when they need to be able to focus.
Secondly, students in the Liverpool and Greater Manchester City Regions have faced restrictions for far longer, with more time being spent out of college, than students in other parts of the country, therefore these exams will not be a level playing field.
These exams involve 130,000 students across the country and the whole of the FE sector is concerned that allowing them to go ahead not only puts staff and students at risk, but once again demonstrates the continued lack of parity for BTEC students compared with those sitting A Levels and GCSES, and the divide that remains between vocational and academic education.
BTECs are more likely to be studied by those from working-class backgrounds and ethnic minority communities – groups which are already more vulnerable in terms of their life outcomes, including health inequalities. BTECs and other vocational qualifications are also key to supporting progression into higher education from areas - particularly in the North - that tend to be cold spots for university recruitment.
To not treat these students on a par with their peers studying an academic route would be a double injustice.
We do not believe it is right to go ahead with these exams when others have been cancelled and we urge the government to listen to the concerns of college leaders from our city-regions, and across the country who are concerned about the fairness and practically of pressing ahead.
Therefore, if Ministers are unwilling to listen to the sector and continue with exams regardless, then they must put in place measures - including the weighting of results - to ensure that no student is disadvantaged by having to sit exams during a period of national lockdown.
Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester
Steve Rotheram, Mayor of the Liverpool City Region
Image: ninja999 on Flickr licensed via Creative Commons
Article Published: 05/01/2021 17:00 PM