Ministers confirm exams and grading plan for 2023

Grades will return to pre-pandemic standards, but with 'soft landing' protections and exam aids in some subjects

Grades will return to pre-pandemic standards, but with 'soft landing' protections and exam aids in some subjects

The number of penalties handed out to students caught cheating has risen for a second year

Next year’s GCSE and A-level grades will return back to pre-pandemic levels, government has confirmed, albeit with a “soft landing” and exam aids will be allowed in some subjects.

In summer 2022, grades were set at a “midway” point between 2019 and 2021 after two years of teacher grades due to the pandemic. Top grades had soared during these years.

The Department for Education and Ofqual confirmed today that grades will fall back to pre-pandemic standards. But there will be “protection” for students impacted by Covid disruption. It will also help “in case students’ performance is slightly lower than before the pandemic”.

‘Soft landing’ on grade drop

DfE said senior examiners will use the grades achieved by previous cohorts of pupils, along with prior attainment data, to inform their decisions about where to set grade boundaries.

This means, for example, a typical A-level student who would have achieved a grade A before the pandemic will be just as likely to get an A this summer, even if their performance is “a little weaker” than it would have been previously.

The protection is similar to those put in place for the first cohort of students taking reformed exams in 2017 – which meant not disadvantaging students who might have performed less well because they were the first to sit new exams.

Ofqual expects overall results next year will move “much closer” to pre-pandemic years.

Advance information – which was used last academic year to help students target their revision – will not be available again. It has already been confirmed that optionality in some GCSE subjects would be removed.

Exam aids for maths, physics, combined science

But formulae and equation sheets should remain in GCSE mathematics, physics and combined science, government said. A consultation has been launched.

Chief regulator Dr Jo Saxton said its 2023 plans were a “step further” towards normality, but still recognised Covid’s impact.

“Our approach to grading in 2023 will provide a soft landing for students as we continue the process of taking the exam system back to normal.”

But this means students face a big drop in grades next year. Just a third of the pandemic grade inflation was wiped out among top GCSE results this year, rather than the half that Ofqual aimed for.

Education secretary Kit Malthouse said the transition back to “pre-pandemic normality” was because students working towards qualifications next year “expect fairness in exams and grading arrangements”.

Consultations to ‘futureproof’ exams

Further consultations to “futureproof” exams will also be held. This includes guidance for schools about how to gather consistent evidence to ensure “preparedness” should exams need to be cancelled ever again.

Exams boards body the Joint Council for Qualifications will consult on maintaining extra spacing between exams next summer. This was brought in during Covid, but Ofqual said it was well received by schools and reduced the chance of students missing exams through illness.

A third consultation will propose removing the expectation pupils engage with unfamiliar and abstract material, such as unfamiliar vocabulary, in modern foreign language GCSE exams from next year onwards.

Pre-pandemic standards for predicted grades

Ofqual said it can be “challenging for teachers to predict grades accurately at the best of times”.

Ofqual expects predicted grades this year to be “much closer” to those in pre-pandemic years. Predicted grades last year were at their highest level.

The regulator recommends teachers use “the familiar pre-pandemic standard as the basis for predicting their students’ grades”.

“That familiarity will make it easier for teachers to generate predictions for their students that are aspirational but achievable, in line with UCAS guidance,” the regulator said.

Workload warning over new assessment plans

Natalie Perera, chief executive of the Education Policy Institute think tank, said returning to 2019 grade distribution was “the most pragmatic approach”.

But she added plans for schools to collect “consistent evidence” about pupil performance to guard against future disruption must be not create additional burdens for schools or increase workload.

“Making the system more resilient is important, and the government must prioritise this by targeting resources at disadvantaged and vulnerable students.”

Ofqual does not expect any further adaptations to be used in vocational and technical qualifications.

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