Exams 2022: What you need to know about plans for GCSEs and A-levels

AQA employees will strike during A-level results day, UNISON has announced

The government has published its long-awaiting consultation on changes to GCSE and A-level exams in 2022.

Many of the proposals put forward are similar to those proposed for exams in 2021 before they were cancelled.

Here’s what you need to know.


1. Choice of topics for some GCSEs

As was proposed for 2021 exams before their cancellation, the government is proposing that exam boards will offer a “choice of topics beyond a common core on which students would answer questions in the exams” in some GCSE subjects.

This will apply in GCSE English literature, history and ancient history.

For GCSE geography, the government is proposing a “choice of content beyond a common core on which students would answer questions in the exams”.

The changes to geography would be in addition to changes to fieldwork assessments already announced by the government.


2. Advance information for most subjects

The government is proposing that exam boards provide advance information about the “focus of the content of the exams” in the “majority of subjects” at GCSE, AS and A level for 2022 exams.

This would apply to all subjects except GCSE English literature, ancient history, history and geography and GCSE, AS and A level art and design.

Advance information is not being proposed for subjects where a choice of topics is proposed because the government fears this would “be likely to give an unfair advantage to students studying those subjects, and could undermine the rigour and value of the qualifications”.

However, if the government decides not to introduce a choice of topic or content in these subjects, it would propose offering advance information instead.


3. Advance info in the spring, but could come earlier

The consultation states it is the government’s intention that advance information be issued in the spring term “to help students to focus their revision time”.

However, “should the impact of the pandemic worsen, it would be possible for the exam boards to issue advance information earlier in the academic year to help teachers focus their remaining teaching time”.


4. Practical science by demonstration

The government is proposing that for GCSE biology, chemistry, physics and combined science, AS biology, chemistry, physics and geology and AS and A level environmental science, teachers will be given the opportunity to deliver practical science work by demonstration.

This means students “could observe a demonstration by the teacher or observe the practical work being undertaken remotely, for example, by watching a demonstration on-line or on video”.

The consultation also proposes that for the practical endorsement for A-level biology, chemistry, physics and geology, teachers will be allowed to assess the Common Practical Assessment Criteria (CPAC) “across the minimum number of practical activities required for students to demonstrate their competence rather than students being required to complete at least 12 practical activities as determined by the DfE subject content”.


5. Art and design assessed on portfolio only

The government is proposing that for GCSE, AS and A-level art and design subjects, students should be assessed on their portfolio only.

“This means that where specifications include an exam board set task, this would be removed in 2021 to 2022.”


6. Exam room formulae sheet for GCSE maths

The government is proposing that students sitting GCSE maths be allowed access to a formulae sheet in the exam room.

Ofqual consulted on a similar measure for 2021 exams last year, and GCSE maths was “identified as a subject where this support would be particularly appropriate”.

The consultation is also seeking views on whether a revised equation sheet covering “all relevant equations” should be provided in the exam room for GCSE physics and combined science in 2022.


7. Exams to take place at the same time as a ‘typical year’

Before exams were cancelled this year, the government consulted on whether there should be a short delay to the start of the exam period to allow for more teaching time.

However, government said that consultation and subsequent conversations with exam boards have “indicated that there would be significant delivery risks and that these would be exacerbated if a similar change were to be made in 2022”.

The government said that the summer exam series for 2022 “will therefore take place at the same time as in a typical year, for all AS and A levels and GCSEs, allowing students, parents and teachers to plan ahead”.

The Joint Council for Qualifications, which represents exam boards, will consult schools and colleges in the autumn term “on how the exams should be sequenced during this period, ensuring that papers in the same subject are spaced out as much as possible”.


8. Decisions to be announced in the autumn term

The consultation launched today and will run until August 1, with the government “aiming to announce our decisions by early September”.

Ofqual is also considering “how best to grade qualifications in 2022 in a way that is as fair as possible to students in that year, those who took qualifications in previous years, and those who will take them in future”.

The exams regulator “will make a decision once 2021 results are known, and will announce its decisions in the autumn”.


9. DfE and Ofqual working on ‘contingency plans’

The consultation states that the government believes it “should be possible for students to take exams safely next year”.

However, it acknowledges they “need to have plans in place for the unlikely event that that is not possible”.

There is also a “small risk” that there is further disruption to education during the next academic year “which is so extensive that even with remote education in place and the adaptations we propose, going ahead with exams would not be the fairest approach for students”.

DfE and Ofqual are “therefore working together to develop contingency plans for scenarios where exams cannot be held for any reason, either locally or nationally, or where individual students are unable to sit exams due to illness or self-isolation”.

They said they would “undertake further planning on contingencies and announce measures in the autumn term, once this summer’s results have been published and we have been able to reflect with stakeholders on lessons learned from this year’s experience”.

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  1. Paul Nuttall

    5. The government is proposing that for GCSE, AS and A-level art and design subjects, students should be assessed on their portfolio only.

    This seems like a good idea provided it is subject to internal standardization only with exam boards ensuring schools are performing in line with previous performance data and expectations. My concern about having external standardization potentially moving internal grades would be around creating a level playing field across centres.

    If some areas of the country find themselves hit disproportionately by additional waves of covid or variants than more remote areas then this would create a tilted playing field in regards to coursework submissions. You wouldn’t be able to evenly assess the ability of a child who has missed 20% of the academic year against another student who has missed 5% solely based on coursework they may not have access too at home.

    Additionally home learning seems to disproportionately effect PPG students so I think the onerous should be on schools to ensure they have the correct ranking based on the work submitted and their knowledge of other factors in play in regards to TAGs. Exam boards can then assess the accuracy of TAGs and visit centres as required for QA purposes to check procedures have been followed correctly in regards to grading.

    What I don’t think the exam boards should be doing is comparing the work of one centre against another unless they can put in place mitigations to ensure a level playing field. AQA have already trimmed out some content for GSCE D&T, but if we have further lockdowns or high levels of absence I don’t think most students will complete all the areas of assessment.

    We are already behind where we would normally expect to be at this point in a normal academic year due to students having to isolate. Every single student in my D&T group has lost ten days to isolation since the specification came out at May half term with some students being hit twice in that time. Unfortunately the less academic students and most of PPG students just aren’t engaging with home learning and are therefore already falling behind some of the other students.

  2. Clare

    Horrified that yet again the plan is reduced content for certain subjects only. Is this is due to a presumed lack of parity across subjects in terms of difficulty / content? Or is it that certain select subject representatives have more influence over ofquals decisions? Whichever is the case this leads to an unequal playing field.

  3. My 2 sons will be in Y11 and Y13 next year, so, like their brothers before them, they face another catastrophic year.
    This past academic year has been a complete write-off. A year with no education, repeated isolation, social development stunted. In particular the 15 year old has regressed from grades 8/9 to 5/6.

    Prior to this year, children have been taught in schools for the past 500 years. It is a system that works.

    I can no longer rely on the school to provide an education. It is therefore paramount that a specification of course content is published so that I can try and teach him at home. If the content is not being released until spring, this will be too late.

  4. Why only certain subjects were selected for consultation ? Fairness should be applied to all subjects including 3 sciences and Maths? Those children studying these subjects also suffered like the kids taking A-level English, Geography and Art and Design.

  5. wendy jamison

    Is Gavin Williamson taking into account that those who were due to sit GCSE’s in June 2019 are the most overlooked snd unprepared students to sit their A Levels this coming year?
    These children some still 15 were sent home from school with nothing to do from March 2019 until they returned to a catastrophic Lower 6 / Year 12 in Sept 2019. Once again for 2nd year in a row there were no formal examinations in the June of 2020 and now these unprepared kids face going into Upper 6 / Year 13 to take 3 hour exams to decide their future.. is anyone else feeling this class of 2021/2022 are going to be totally let down if they are examined by papers without teach grades?

  6. Reference formulae sheets and exam timetables

    It is helpful to know that a formulae sheet is most likely to be provided for the actual maths GCSE exams. However, some students will be sitting mocks later this term, they need to know definitely that a formulae sheet will be provided in their GCSE and if it will be available for these mocks. The delay reduces their belief that they are taking part in a fair testing procedure. I would always encourage learning formulae but when time is limited and other parts of the syllabus may still need to be studied surely it is not too much to ask that this decision is made and students are informed immediately.

    Likewise, surely the exam timetable could also be released sooner rather than later! Even though, in these uncertain times it may not be wise to plan a vacation, parents and students might appreciate seeing a light at the end of this tunnel!