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How you’ll get a grade for GCSE and A Levels in 2021

Ofqual has announced its proposals for how students will receive their grades in their GCSE, AS and A Levels, after exams were cancelled.

The consultation document sets out what Ofqual considers to be the fairest way to award grades to students so that they “have an equal opportunity to progress. Ofqual is also keen that exam-year students are taught for as long as possible into the academic year.

You can expect the full decision during week commencing 22nd Feb 2-21.

Summary of the proposals

  • Students carry on with education with assessments in May/June
  • Teachers will assess students grades
  • Human-based quality assurance (not an algorithm!)
  • Students can appeal
  • Exam boards to offer ‘exam questions’ to schools
  • Grades awarded on evidenced quality of work, not on a prediction

Students carry on with education – with assessments in May/June

It is important to Ofqual that students continue to engage in education for as long as possible. They are also keen to encourage schools to carry on with a breadth of subject areas, rather than simply cover existing knowledge. This makes sense for students’ onwards progression.

For this reason Ofqual are proposes to run assessments of grades in Late May and early June. This will allow time for quality assurance, results to be released and any appeals before the start of the next cycle.

Teachers will assess students grades

The grades will be determined by teachers based on the standard of work they can evidence. Unlike last year, teachers are not being asked to make a prediction of what a student might get in the exam.

Teachers are expected to “evidence the standard” students are performing at. This evidence, which might be asked for in quality assurance, should show “demonstrated knowledge, understanding and skills”.

Importantly this will only be against the content that pupils have covered, but must also show a sufficient breath of coverage.

Human-based quality assurance (not an algorithm!)

Exam boards will run quality assurance, to make sure that schools are consistent in their approach. Exam boards are expected to sample evidence from schools.

If the exam board finds that the grades are matching the appropriate levels, they will ask school leaders to investigate and make changes, or provide more evidence.

So, unlike 2020 and the public backlash over an algorithm standardising grades, this assurance process will only include human intervention.

Students can appeal

If a student doesn’t agree with their awarded grade they can appeal to their school. An approriate “competent person” from the school – another teacher or senior leader – should consider the appeal. If an error is found the appeal could result in the grade going up or down. But that is only if the original grade “could not have been arrived at by a person who was reasonably exercising their academic judgement.” It seems this is mostly about combatting claims of undue bias.

Students can also appeal to exam boards but this is if they believe the schools didn’t follow the exam board’s procedures.

Exam boards to offer ‘exam questions’ to schools

The proposals suggest that exam boards provide [exam] papers for teachers to mark. These can then be used to help the assessment of grades. The papers would include a selection of questions. This allows teachers to select from areas they have taught. Teachers might not have to use these but could use their own questions instead. However, they would have to be “compatible in demand” to exam boards’ questions.

Teachers are also allowed to take into account non-examined work when determining the grade.

Grades awarded on evidenced quality of work, not on a prediction

This is the big one, and it can be hard to separate out the idea that an assessment is not a prediction. But what it means is that it is still all to play for! It isn’t yet clear how much early work will form part of the assessment, but what is known is that students have until early June to really shine!

So every test, assignment or mock should be treated seriously. It will all help to provide teachers with the evidence they need to award the best grades.

If you’re concerned that you might be falling behind or that there might be gaps in content coverage, our Study Summaries might be just what you are looking for! In one place, you can have a personalised breakdown of your GCSE, iGCSE and BTEC subjects. With our helpful steps, you can print this at home and use it like a checklist.


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