Update 23: Interim Guidance to Centres Delivering OCN NI Qualifications

Dear Colleague, 

As you will be aware, Peter Weir, NI Minister of Education has cancelled all GCSE, AS and A levels exams due to be taken in summer 2021.  Subsequently, on 22nd January 2021, the NI Minister for the Department for the Economy, Diane Dodds announced the cancellation of Vocational and Essential Skills exams until August 2021. 

OCN NI are acutely aware that this is an unsettling period for all stakeholders in the education sector. Therefore, in an attempt to manage the expectations of learners, parents, and our centres, we have decided to issue this interim guidance, as it is likely that a revised regulatory framework won’t be confirmed for another few weeks. 

OCN NI are working closely with DfE and the Qualifications Regulators, CCEA Regulation and OFQUAL, to ensure that learners get the grades they would have achieved under normal circumstances.  However, it is widely recognised that Vocational and Technical Qualifications (VTQ) is a broad and diverse landscape and not ‘a one size fits all’ in terms of assessment. Therefore, the regulatory intention is to ensure awarding organisations can put in place appropriate assessment arrangements to suit the specification for their qualifications under a revised Regulatory Framework. This revised framework will ensure that all learner results awarded will have the same standards and recognition as any other year and will carry the same degree of portability for learners, when considering progression pathways. 

Current thinking 

The Regulators are currently reviewing, in consultation with Awarding Organisations, the outcomes of their consultation: Alternative arrangements for the award of VTQs and other general qualifications in 2021, which closed on the 29th January 2021. 

As a result of this consultation, a proposed framework is in development.  This proposed Vocational Contingency Regulatory Framework (VCRF, working title) is a single framework replacing the ERF and Extended ERF and may group qualifications into two broad categories;

  • Group A - qualifications demonstrating occupational competence/professional or Licence to Practice (LtP) qualifications.

For these types of qualifications, it is not possible to make awards safely and reliably if key knowledge and occupational skills have not been demonstrated and assessed.  Therefore, it is likely that assessment adaptions will continue under the Extended ERF (where appropriate) and/or be delayed. This will require a wider system response to address these implications. 

  • Group B - qualifications most like GCSE’s, AS and A levels

For these types of vocational qualifications, it will be important not to advantage/disadvantage learners compared to their peers taking General Qualifications. Therefore, it is expected that AOs will be permitted to use similar awarding approaches to GCSEs, AS and A Levels and use teacher/assessor judgements as part of their awarding approach, similar to CAGs last year.

 OCN NI Interim Guidance

OCN NI anticipates that the vast majority of its qualifications will be deemed ‘in scope’ for category B, relating to both year 1 and year 2 leaners and would advise centres to:

  • carry on with teaching and learning to support engagement in education.
  • encourage internal assessment to continue where it is helpful to form an evidence base for a teacher/assessor judgement.
  • review the OCN NI qualification adaptations guidance to support continued delivery; and
  • collate assessment evidence to support teacher/assessor judgements in preparation for the award of qualifications.

 OCN NI has provided a useful infographic to help illustrate the most likely scenario for awarding qualifications this academic year (please below this letter for a high res version of the infographic).


As soon as the revised regulatory framework is agreed, we will issue guidance documentation to all our centres and provide webinars for additional support. 

Thank you for your patience and understanding during these challenging times and remember that the OCN NI team are here to support you, and answer any questions or concerns relating to the delivery and assessment of our qualifications.