Decoupling | NCFE

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Decoupling – Changing the way students can take the core exam and ESP in their first attempt.

Between March and May 2023, Ofqual consulted on changes to the qualification level conditions for T Levels, following a Department for Education (DfE) decision to change the way in which students can take the core exam and core employer set project (ESP) in their first attempts at these assessments.

Previously, students were required to attempt both core sub-components (the core exams (both papers) and the core ESP) in their first attempt. However, following this consultation decision, students are now able to decouple the two core sub-components, allowing them to take only the core exam (both papers), or only the core ESP in their first attempt.

What does this mean for providers and students? 

As a provider, you now have the option to decouple the two core sub-components, meaning for the first attempt (traditionally in the summer of year one) there’s no longer a requirement to attempt both the core exam and also the core ESP.  

When making a registration for a student in the NCFE Portal, you can now opt to attempt only one of the two sub-components in the first attempt if this is their preference.  

Do providers have to decouple? 

No, this is only a new and additional option alongside the current approach. You can continue to follow the previous model with both sub-components being attempted in the same first series should they wish. 

When does this begin? 

This is in place from September 2023, meaning any new bookings from this time can be made using these new rules.  

If a provider has existing bookings made under the previous requirements which they would now like to amend, they can do so in the Portal or with support from our Customer Support team on [email protected] 

Do students still need to complete both sub-components? 

Yes, there is no change to the requirement that a student must complete both the core exams and core ESP in order to certificate overall. This change is just related to when they can make their first attempt.  

Does this change the way the core exams can be attempted? 

No, there is no change to the requirement that the core exam sub-component consists of two papers (A and B) which must be attempted in the same series.  

Whichever way a student attempts the core exams and the core ESP, the core exam sub-component still consists of two papers which combine within a series to form a core exam outcome. This change does not allow a student to split their attempts on each paper across different series, or to resit just one of the two core exam papers. Both must be attempted in the same series for both first attempts, and also all resit attempts, with a core exam sub-component result based on the combined outcomes within a series.  

Are resits affected? 

No, there has always been an approach of allowing resits on only the core exam or the core ESP following the first attempt. This is not changing.  

Is the occupational specialism (OS) affected? 

No, this change is only for the core component. The OS must still be completed in full (all assignments) in a single series.  

What is the recommended approach? 

You can make bookings for the core component in the way which works best for your students once they’ve had all required teaching and preparation for an assessment. Providers are reminded that whilst there is an Autumn series available each year, this is primarily aimed at students starting their second year of delivery requiring a resit or first attempt, and may not be appropriate for students in their first year of delivery as this severely limits the delivery time required against GLH and preparation time ahead of the assessment.
Providers must ensure that any decision taken to sit the core sub-components in separate series takes into consideration the potential impact of delaying a first attempt at any sub-component. For example, choosing to attempt only the core ESP in the summer of year one means that a student could then only have two attempts at the core exams (autumn and summer of year two), which may present a challenge given that year two will most likely be concentrated on preparation for the occupational specialism. Whereas a first attempt at both sub-components in the summer of year one could mean a possible two further resit opportunities in year 2 should they be needed.  

Are there more opportunities timetabled each year? 

No, there are no changes to the autumn or summer series timetabling of assessments. There will still be two opportunities for each sub-component each year, once in autumn and once in summer. See the latest version of the Key Dates Schedule for full details.