BTec exams must be cancelled now urges UNISON

Staff running these exams, many of them already at heightened risk, will be exposed to unnecessary additional danger

UNISON has accused the Westminster government of yet again making a last minute decision without thinking through the consequences on those who will be involved in delivering it.

In warning of the dire consequences of how fast the virus is now spreading the Westminster government made the decision to close all colleges and sixth forms and move to online learning.

But as an afterthought the DfE announced that BTec exams starting this week would still go ahead.

This means that thousands of young people will be asked to go into halls with the invigilators, the admin staff and the learning support assistants acting as scribes and readers.

This comes at a time when the country as a whole is being told that it is unsafe to gather in large numbers and to stay at home.

UNISON believes this situation should never have been allowed to happen.

England, like Wales and Scotland should have planned for exam disruption and prepared an adequate system before now.

UNISON head of education Jon Richards said: “The young people taking these exams are the ones who are most likely to catch and spread the virus.

“The staff who are running these exams, many of whom fall into vulnerable categories and are more at risk, such as Black staff and older staff with underlying health conditions, will be exposed to unnecessary risk.

“We’ve been speaking to staff in colleges who are desperately worried about the risks they are being told to take.

“Whilst the DfE tells us that lots of COVID tests were sent out to colleges over the Christmas break, the staff on the ground haven’t seen these yet.

“These exams must be cancelled. The risk to public health is too great at this moment in time.”

UNISON’s further education and 6th form colleges national committee met remotely on Tuesday and released the following statement:

“As members working in colleges we recognise the huge amount of work, by staff and learners, that has gone into preparing for the January BTec exam series.

“Notwithstanding this, we do not feel it is reasonable for the exams to go ahead. The government knew that cases of the virus were rising and should have made mitigations sooner.

“The lack of planning by the government in Westminster cannot excuse putting the lives of college staff in danger or the wider public health issues that will result.

“UNISON staff, who will be called upon to run and administer the exams, call for the January series of exams to be cancelled and alternative measures put in place, as will happen with the May/June exams.

“If principals in individual colleges do decide there is no other option than to go ahead with the exams, the following procedures must be followed:

  • A full risk assessment process needs to have taken place, in consultation with unions specifically for managing the exams.
  • Any learner or staff member involved in attending the site should have had a lateral flow test and received a negative result, prior to mixing with others. Note – lateral flow tests have demonstrated that they have relatively poor accuracy levels but recognise that they are the most pragmatic option at this time.”
  • Any learner or staff member who tests positive needs to follow the DfE lateral flow testing advice.”