Ofqual explains its plans for GCSE, AS and A-level grades in 2021

students in exam hall

In a blog post written exclusively for The Student Room, exams regulator Ofqual outlines how GCSE, AS and A-level grades could be awarded this summer

Following the cancellation of GCSE, AS and A-level summer exams, The Student Room spoke to the team at Ofqual, which is the government's exam regulator for England. 

We invited Ofqual to write a guest blog to explain its proposed system for providing GCSE, AS and A-level grades this year.

In the article below, Ofqual covers this information and explains how you can have your say on the proposals. You can also read about Ofqual's plans for vocational and technical assessments here.

What you should know about plans for GCSE, AS and A level grades this year

Following the prime minister’s announcement that exams this year would not go ahead as planned, students have understandably been anxious about what will happen in the months ahead, and how grades will be awarded this summer.

You need grades to continue to the next stage of your lives, whether it’s education, training or employment.

Not only that, but the learning and skills you gain for the rest of this academic year will benefit you whatever you choose to do.

We know the huge impact the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic is having on your lives – and your education – and we understand the importance of our role to make sure students’ results are as fair as possible.

We also want to make sure that, wherever possible, all students, including those who are studying independently or who are home educated, will get grades at the same time.

We didn’t start from scratch in coming up with these proposals. We, and the Department for Education (DfE), have been thinking about contingency plans for this summer – including for any vocational and technical qualifications you may be taking – since before the start of the academic year.

We have published a consultation to get views from students, teachers and others across the education sector. We know that you want clarity, and that you want it quickly.

In place of exams, we propose that your grades are based on teacher assessment. All the detail on our thinking behind how this will work is in our consultation. The main points are below.

We are keen to get views on every aspect, so there are a lot of questions in the consultation (60+) but you don’t need to answer every one of them if your interest is in specific areas. Please do click through to the end though, so that your response is counted.

Teachers setting grades

We believe teachers should determine their students’ grades having assessed the evidence of the standard at which their students are performing.

Expecting teachers to imagine a scenario where the pandemic hadn’t happened and then base grades on this would be an impossible task. After all, the purpose of qualifications is to demonstrate what you know and can do, and to what level.

Qualifications have to do this so that anyone who uses them, such as universities when making entry decisions, or employers when deciding who to recruit, can rely on them.  

There should be a quality assurance process within the school or college to make sure that the evidence used to determine your grade is in line with the guidance, and we are asking who would be best placed to do this.

Exam boards will also check guidance is being followed and issue certificates to students.

Assessments

We propose that the final assessment of a student’s performance should be as late in the academic year as practical: during late May and early June.

This is to allow you to keep learning for as long as possible, and to complete non-exam assessments so that teachers can consider those when they come to determine your grades.

You’re probably wondering what evidence teachers will be able to use to justify their decisions. We ask this question in the consultation. Should they be required to use exam board papers or should this be optional? Should partially completed non-exam assessments be included? What else should be included?

Other questions are around:

  • where students should take any assessment papers
  • how quality assurance of the grades could work – should the school/college check the evidence on which grades are based or should the exam board?
  • whether evidence of a student’s performance from throughout their course should be included. Some feel this should be included if it provides evidence to support a higher grade, while some students would prefer to know before they do the work whether it would be included in a grade judgement.

Appeals

An important part of the proposals are the arrangements for appeals. We propose that you should be able to appeal to your school or college – and then the exam board – if you think the school or college hasn’t followed the process for teacher assessment correctly.

We also propose that results could be provided to students earlier than normal so that appeals can be completed before universities make admissions decisions. The consultation asks for views on how appeals arrangements could work.

Appeals could be considered by school staff not involved in the original grade decision.

Private candidates

Private candidates are students who are taking exams through a school or college but are not enrolled there. You might be self-taught, home-schooled or have private tuition through a tutor or distance learning provider.

We present four possible approaches for private candidates:

  • to complete papers set by exam boards
  • to work with a school or college to assess their performance standard
  • to sit normal exams in the summer of 2021
  • to sit normal exams in the autumn of 2021

The consultation also covers our considerations to avoid a disproportionate negative impact on students because of any ‘protected characteristics’ under equality law, such as their ethnicity or a disability.

We are working hard to get views and confirm arrangements for 2021. We know this is a worrying time and we will make sure arrangements are as clear as possible.

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