Exams 2021: Ofqual confirms changes in certain subjects, but no decision yet on delaying exams

Schools will be offered a choice of topics on which their pupils will be examined in GCSE English literature, history and ancient history next year, Ofqual has announced.

The exams regulator has published the outcome of its consultation on how GCSEs and A-levels will be assessed in 2021.

However, no decision has been made on one of the consultation’s key questions – whether to delay exams until later in the summer – with Ofqual saying it needs more time to “undertake a further analysis of the options, the risks and the mitigations”.

The document confirms a number of proposals set out in the consultation last month will go ahead, including changes to assessments in some subjects to safeguard public health.

But Ofqual has also announced a series of decisions that were not originally proposed, but have been made following responses.

For example, the regulator has announced today that the Department for Education has decided to allow a “choice of topics on which students will be examined in 2021 for GCSE history, ancient history and English literature”.

However, greater use of optional content will be discouraged in other subjects because of concerns its use would “further disadvantage” students “who are already most likely to be most disadvantaged by the disruption to their education”.

Ofqual will also remove the requirement for schools to make to declare that their GCSE, AS and A-level geography students have completed a set number of days of fieldwork. The exemption was initially only proposed for GCSE geography, but now will apply to the subject at all levels.

However, A-level geography pupils will still have to complete a non-exam assessment, but exam boards will be expected to be “flexible in their requirements for the use of primary data and, at all levels, to emphasise to centres that they should complete as much fieldwork as possible, including by remote or virtual means”.

Similar changes to fieldwork requirements will also be made in GCSE, AS and A-level geology and AS and A-level environmental science. And in GCSE astronomy, pupils will be able to meet observational activity requirements through demonstrations or simulations – a similar approach to what is proposed for practical science activities.

Exam boards will not be required to change the length, number or format of exam papers, except as necessary to accommodate specific changes to the exam and assessment arrangements.

For GCSEs in modern languages, exam boards will be asked to report the assessment of spoken language “as an endorsement alongside the 9 to 1 grade”.

Exam boards will also be asked to allow for “a range of adjustments” to the assessment arrangements in a number of subjects “to accommodate potential public health requirements, for example, GCSE food preparation and nutrition, GCSE, AS and A level music and GCSE physical education”.

However, Ofqual has put off making a decision on one of the most important elements of the consultation – changes to the exam timetable next year.

In the consultation document, Ofqual said it had asked exam boards to “consider how the 2021 exam timetable could be changed to allow more time for teaching – in particular, whether GCSE exams could start after half term, on 7 June 2021”.

However, in its response, Ofqual said that while there was support for delaying exams, a “number of risks and issues were highlighted in the responses, including concerns about the likely impact on the dates by which results could then be published”.

“The key decision for Ofqual on the timetable is whether to change our rules to allow the exams boards to offer exams in July 2021 as well as in May and June. However, changes to the exam timetable are not for Ofqual alone.

“We will work with DfE, the exam boards, colleagues in Wales and Northern Ireland, and higher education to undertake a further analysis of the options, the risks and the mitigations, before taking a decision.”