It really feels like I have spent the last month discussing nothing else, whether it is in conversations with Ofqual and the DfE, chairing the Federation of Awarding Bodies (FAB) Functional Skills group meetings, running support sessions with providers, internal planning meetings or discussions with AoC, HOLEX and AELP. TAG, TAG, TAG. The key part of that work has been agreeing a common approach to TAGs across all the AOs, an agreement that has led to the publishing of the shared guidance from which all other AOs will publish their guidance. We spent many hours getting together to discuss the policy decisions and how we can implement them.
The key piece of this is the policy itself, something that the AOs could not change. This policy clearly spells out that a TAG is only for situations where a learner cannot safely sit an assessment (either face to face or remotely), where that assessment cannot be delayed for progression purposes and where a provider can evidence that a learner would pass that assessment if they were able to take it. One thing that the DfE and Ofqual have been clear on is that this policy does not mitigate for lost teaching and learning. If a learner is not assessment ready, then teaching and learning needs to continue.
Discussions with providers have helped shape the guidance for Pearson too, not just through the six Q&A sessions we ran recently, but also through one-to-one sessions with colleges and private training providers. Sessions that allowed us to see this through your eyes and, more importantly, through the eyes of your learners. Often specific situations have allowed us to write scenarios to help us frame how we will support providers and learners in this period.
As I write, the Pearson TAG guidance page is now live and this sets out the approach that providers need to take to TAGs:
- This is a learner centric policy. Each decision a provider needs to make is on an individual learner by learner basis. This is not to say that groups of learners might be eligible for a TAG, but to say that even in that scenario, each learner needs to be treated differently as there will be different evidence for each one.
- There is a useful flow chart for providers to use to help them make decisions around TAGs. Following this chart for every learner will ensure that you are making the correct decisions. Can the learner take a live test? Can a test be delayed? Do you have evidence that a learner would be successful if they took a live test?
- The testing of learners is the preferred option and that the use of a TAG is almost one of a last resort. We have many adaptations in place to help support live testing and my door is always open for a quick chat about what you can do to support your learners. If you have a plan, let us know and we can see if we can help you implement it.
- One of the key words is safely, as in safely access an assessment. This should be in accordance with Public Health England guidelines. Although the period of shielding ends shortly, there may be learners that for one reason or another, it is not safe to go to the provider. For these learners, the provider should investigate remote invigilation and use that wherever possible. TAGs though, can be used to help support the progression of the learners.
- The TAG policy is retrospective and covers the period 1 August 2020 to the 31 August 2021. For some learners they may have finished their teaching and learning at a time when testing was not appropriate, the policy can help support these learners too.
- Finally remember that the legacy Functional Skills last certification date is the 31 July 2021, which is before the end of the TAG period. We will not be able to certificate learners on those qualifications after that date.
For evidence that a learner would be successful if they could take an assessment, Pearson has taken a simple approach. We feel the easiest way to assess this is through a practice or past paper. We are not saying that you cannot build up a portfolio of evidence to support this, but we do understand this would be time consuming on your part. To support this, we are releasing another retired paper onto our webpage. These will be padlocked to ensure that if learners are doing them outside the classroom, they have no access to the mark schemes and you can feel more confident about the reliability of this evidence. We are also publishing a guide to our pass marks and pass descriptors too to help ensure that the correct decisions are being made.
The process itself will start in April 2021, and there will be numerous opportunities to apply for and receive TAGs for your learners. Results will be released on a rolling basis too.
As ever, we do encourage providers to contact us if you have any concerns or if you wish to discuss the process. I am always open for a quick chat.
Chris Briggs, Sector Manager Post-16 English and Maths