For 175 years, NCFE has been making a difference through its work as an educational charity and leader in vocational and technical learning. As part of this, NCFE develops and certificates diverse, nationally recognised qualifications and awards for millions of learners.
Ofqual (regulator for qualifications in England) lists them as the third largest awarding organisation for the number of certificates awarded in vocational and other qualifications. In addition, NCFE is the UK’s largest T Level awarding organisation; selected by government as the delivery partner for 9 T Level routes (high quality, work focused alternatives to A Levels for post-16 students).
Like many others, NCFE was originally a paper-based awarding organisation. However, as the organisation evolved, manual marking processes were beginning to slow them down. Simply put, the sheer volume of paper became unsustainable to process internally, which caused inherent issues around logistics, security, and time management.
NCFE began engaging with digital assessment providers in 2017 to explore how technology could modernise processes and improve operational efficiency, specifically around digital marking.
Digital marking, onscreen marking, or e-Marking is the use of digital technology for marking or grading an exam or assessment. There are many benefits to adopting e-Marking, but what appealed most to NCFE was the ability to mark high-stakes assessments more efficiently, rigorously, and securely.
In September 2019, the UK Government introduced T Levels (as mentioned above), and NCFE started to develop and deliver T Levels in Education and Childcare, Digital, and Health and Science.
RM had originally submitted a bid to NCFE in November 2018. However, the arrival of T Levels created a new challenge as it added an additional layer of complexity to the marking process. T Levels require continual assessment and therefore, there is a need to collate a substantial body of work for each candidate. We needed to rethink our solution.
Building on the relationship that we had established with NCFE, we agreed to explore the potential of e-Coursework within our existing technology offering. RM Assessor can mark any kind of assessment in a consistent, quality-controlled way: whether that be a scanned, handwritten script or an on-screen digital exam; a fully functional spreadsheet or videos and photos of practical work.
Working flexibly, and as partners with NCFE, we introduced an e-Coursework capability to the solution within RM Assessor. This meant that a student could potentially build a body of work, with a rich blend of content and it would be uploaded to the system for marking as a single candidate portfolio. Any type of file could be uploaded, including PDF, image, audio, video, essay, or even a spreadsheet, giving the marker an in depth understanding of the candidate’s knowledge and ability to apply their skills.
Over the next two years, which included a pause for the pandemic, we began to test our redefined solution through a rigorous implementation project. This project ensured that NCFE was able review all content types within the Assessor platform to support the marking of candidate exams.
During this time, RM delivered training on all aspects of the solution to NCFE to ensure they were prepared for their introduction into the e-marking process. Working with their Operations and Development teams, we tested the new processes to provide real-world examples of scans and exceptions, so all parties were ready for the upcoming sessions.
Over the last 6 months, we completed the final stages of User Acceptance Testing and are now ready for the first live exams to be processed through RM Assessor from March 2023.
We will look to continue enabling improvement and enhancement throughout the life of the contract, ensuring that NCFE can respond to changing market needs and programmes of reform. Our trusted partnership began five years ago with NCFE, but the work starts now. We look forward to embarking on our digital assessment journey together, as we continue to shape the future of vocational and technical education.
The market itself is experiencing a shift as many awarding organisations consider the value of putting more emphasis on formative assessment rather than having such a heavy focus on summative exams. This complements the increasingly recognised need to assess in a way that demonstrates candidates’ skills and capabilities rather than testing knowledge that they have retained.
In working with NCFE, we can see how digitising simple marking processes can enhance operational efficiencies, and this is not limited to single summative exams. This technology is available to new qualification structures, allowing students to be assessed over a wide range of work as demonstrated in the roll-out of the T Level qualifications.