Ofqual confirms the changes to GCSE, AS and A Level grading in 2021

After months of speculation and consultation, details have been announced for how grades will be awarded in 2021.

The Government announced in January that there would be no exams in England for GCSEs, Vocational Qualifications (eg BTEC), AS or A Levels in 2021. Since then Ofqual has conducted a consultation with teachers, professionals, parents and students as to what should happen in their place. The central question being: how can students receive grades for courses without a terminal exam and accepting that there are huge levels of disparity between schools as to how much of the curriculum has been taught.

Highlights

  1. Teachers will make an assessment
  2. No algorithm
  3. Teachers can draw on a range of supporting evidence
  4. There will be no specific requirements for what that evidence involves
  5. Centres will submit their assessed grades by 18th June
  6. Grades will be subject to random sampling to ensure consistency
  7. Results announced earlier
  8. Appeals process defined

Teachers will make an assessment

Like last year, teachers and exam centres will make an assessment of the grade. Unlike last year this isn’t a prediction of what they might have got in the exam. It is the level they are currently at, in so far as they have been taught. The difference this makes is evidence. Can a teacher actually support the grade that they are going recommending. Without that evidence even if a child might have done better in an exam it will be difficult to make the case.

No algorithm

This is the focus of a lot of attention. Mostly likely due to the media and public backlash for 2020 students, which ultimately resulted in a u-turn. However, that isn’t to say that teacher’s assessment is final. There may be adjustments to grade to ensure consistency of teacher judgement. But that will only be done by humans.

Teachers can draw on a range of supporting evidence

Teachers can use coursework, mock exams, tests and other documented work by students to evidence the grades. And this doesn’t have to be future facing. Any work from the duration of the course will suffice. Teachers are encouraged to show the evidence to students. However, they are not permitted to let the students know what their assessed grade is at this stage.

There will be no specific requirements for what that evidence involves

There was a lot of talk about mini-exams. They are not a requirement in teacher assessment. Exam boards will be providing a range of supporting materials such as exam questions for teachers to call on, along with exemplar answers and presumably marking schemes. However, schools are not required to use them. Remember that not every school will have covered the same content over the course, given the disruption and so these might not be applicable.

Centres will submit their assessed grades by 18th June

Exam centres (schools and colleges), are due to provide these grades by 18th June. This is so that there is the maximum study time available to students. This allows them to continue with as much content breadth as possible and represents a great chance in demonstrate their abilities.

Grades will be subject to random sampling to ensure consistency

Teacher judgement is the basis for the grades this year. But there is still a need to ensure that one teacher’s judgement matches another. The idea then is that exam boards will randomly sample schools’ grading to ensure a level of consistency across all students. This is no small feat. It’s also why teachers are not permitted to inform students of the grades they are awarding.

Results announced earlier

Results announcements are being brought forward to allow for appeals in the main. That means that A Level results will be announced on 9th August 2021 and GCSE results on 12th August 2021.

Appeals process defined

If a student wants to challenge their grade they must raise it with the school. The school will check to see if there was a procedural error. If there were; the recommendation is sent to the exam board for verification.

If the school finds that there wasn’t any procedural error; the student can request that the matter is sent to the exam board for review. Here the exam board will ensure that the teacher judgement was applied correctly.

Importantly, unlike last year an exam board has the ability to reduce the grade.

What does it mean?

Ofqual and DfE are clear that this is the fairest system for students, given the distruption. Some experts have been quick to point out issues around standardising the results and especially the increased burden on teachers – and possible personal backlash. However, as some have said, this might be the least worst of all the alternatives.

It does, however, provide the certainty that many students and parents were after. And, if students were worried that they were saving themselves for a last-ditch revision session before an exam, this still gives an opportunity to demonstrate what they are capable of.

A lot of emphasis now will be placed on making sure that students are prepared for their next step. Whether or not that is seen as “catching-up”, it is important that students feel prepared and ready to tackle their next challenges – both in content and also in skills and confidence.