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The next generation BTEC brings new challenges for all our schools: externally assessed units and new rules regarding coursework feedback. It is no longer BTEC ‘as we know it’. It’s a completely different regime. The bar has been raised to add more rigour and credibility to the subject.

No longer can BTEC be thought of as a ‘sink’ option for those learners who don’t want to do certain subjects or who don’t seem to fit well anywhere else or for your alternative curriculum students.

We are now following a new framework called NQF qualifications, not QCF. Students starting a BTEC in September 2013 now have to follow the new NQF Next Generation BTEC. This includes coursework and an exam.

Here are 5 simple strategies that can help you manage the transition to the new NQF framework:

1) An EXAM I hear you say! Yes an Exam

Perhaps the biggest challenge facing next generation BTEC teachers is that there is now external testing, often by way of an on-screen test. Some teachers may not have taught a subject that has an end-of-unit exam. It brings its own timing issues when planning a suitable timetable.

Learners face two challenges here: subject knowledge and the exam environment.

We must get students to practise exam scenarios time and time again so that they will get used to being pressured for time, the finality of the examination of their learning and feeling nervous about taking an exam. And, of course, if they keep practising they will learn how to answer questions, even though some of this will be rote learning.

2) Approach your assignments holistically

All assignments must be holistic in the way they are written. You need to comply with all the changes or you will get your centre blocked. Most importantly you need to forget the old approach to your BTEC teaching and assignment briefs that highlight “task 1 will give you P1”.

“…if it seems as though it’s harder than GCSE, well it is”.

Remember that this is a Level 2 qualification so it’s at least on a par with GCSE. The latter is being revamped so, currently, the ‘bar’ is higher for BTEC.

There is a much greater emphasis now on independence, presentation, the amount of feedback and checking for plagiarism. The amount of feedback that can be given to learners has changed and there is also a cut off date for formative feedback that must be observed.

Start with some Merit or Distinction work which, even if not achieved, might cover some Pass work almost by osmosis. Often a good way of encouraging success with learners.

Finally, assess the work correctly. If it is only worth a Pass, that is the mark that should be awarded. Avoid any grade inflation.

3) Summative feedback must be exactly that. It must not contain formative feedback

You need to look closely at the requirements regarding formative and summative feedback. Too much feedback and the centre will be blocked on that unit and the learners will have to start from scratch. Remember that this is your responsibility and not the learners’.

After Internal Verification the LIV can authorise one re-submission but no more.

The emphasis is now on independence and ensuring that it is the learners’ own work – very much like controlled assessment in GCSE. It may seem harsh compared with QCF but it will give a better reflection of the learner’s true ability and will stand them in better stead for the future.

Set up mini dummy criteria tasks for homework before the assignments are even started. Give them verbal and written summative and formative feedback. This enables both parties to get used to this new approach. But only give it twice. Then mark it.

4. Stop the Block

The most likely cause of a problem is being blocked on coursework sampling. The second most likely problem is the assignment not being fit for purpose.

How you can stop this from happening?

Firstly, use the Edexcel assignment briefs where possible as they have been authorised as fit for purpose. Remember, it is only an assignment brief, not what is taught on the classroom. Providing the SV sees the work that is needed, of course. Or you could write your own and use the assessment checking service – it will act as an IV system for you but you’ll still need to IV the assignments.

If the assignment brief is not fit for purpose then the work is unlikely to be fit for purpose.

Secondly, be sure the learners fully understand the command verbs especially ‘explain’, ‘describe’ and ‘evaluate’. For every command verb used in an assignment put a descriptor at the end.

Thirdly, get the learners to carry out peer assessment of any work. It will show if they understand the unit knowledge base and the command verbs. This also cuts down on formal formative assessment which might be a problem with regards to independence. It is very Ofsted-friendly as a technique (and cuts down on marking!).

5. And finally – where to get help

First port of call should be the Edexcel website for:

  • Specifications
  • Assignments
  • Paperwork
  • SAMs

However, when you go ‘live’ with the exams you will not have access to the Mark Scheme until the exam is retired by Edexcel. Edexcel is publishing Mark Schemes for Unit 1 in ICT, and Sport this month as the current exam for each of these is being retired.

Edexcel is not publishing a Results Plus type service where you can track how any one learner performed in any one question. However, you can access a service which will tell you how well your learners did generally in a certain Learning Aim.