Ofqual reveals proposals for exams in 2021

Ofqual has today published its consultation on how exams could look in 2021.

The consultation is open until Thursday 16 July, with final decisions announced in August. Here’s what’s being considered.


1. Trimming subjects to free up teaching time…

Ofqual has proposed adaptations in a number of subjects to give teachers more time to cover the full content and help relieve the pressure on students. That includes removing the requirement to record the spoken language assessment in GCSE English language; allowing GCSE students to observe (rather than undertake) practical science work; and assessing art and design students on their portfolio alone. Ofqual is discussing this with subject associations how they might be able to support teachers in making these modifications.


2. … and adaptions to allow for future public health safeguards

Ofqual said the extent which public health safeguards will continue in the next academic year is “not yet certain”.

They’ve identified subjects that could be “more difficult” for pupils in such circumstances, adding it is “wise to consider such measure now, rather than wait to respond should the need arise”.

This includes relaxing the requirement in A-level dance that requires students to perform as part of a quarter, so they can perform in two solos, permitting design and technology students to watch teachers demonstrate the use of machinery, rather than to use the machinery themselves, and allowing GCSE drama students to watch a streamed or recorded live performance (rather than seeing one in the theatre).


3. Content sampling in question papers (but not core subjects)

Education secretary Gavin Williamson has said he’s “not minded to specify changes to DfE content which forms the foundation for GCSE, AS and A level qualifications, but he has asked [Ofqual] to explore use of content sampling in question papers and increasing the use of optional questions”.

However, the DfE said this should not be used in GCSE English language, English literature, maths and the sciences, because these core subjects are “so fundamental to students’ ability to progress successfully to further study; nor should it apply at AS or A level”.

Ofqual said it’s proposing to free up teaching time is enough in most subjects. But that hasn’t been possible for GCSE history, ancient history and geography.

So, for GCSE history and ancient history, Ofqual is proposing a choice of topics on which students would be required to answer questions in their exams, with one topic remaining mandatory.

While in GCSE geography, Ofqual has said the content relating to fieldwork should not be assessed in 2021.

They added: “We believe that, in the circumstances, this is acceptable and the fairest way to mitigate the impact of coronavirus (COVID-19) for students taking these subjects in summer 2021 and that the proposed changes will not have an undue impact on students’ successful progression to A level.”


4. Pushing back exams until after June 7 next year

Ofqual has 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. Ofqual added: “We are also seeking views on whether such a change would be appropriate for the AS/A level exam timetable, and the impact of any delay in issuing results.”

Sally Collier, chief regulator, for Ofqual, said: “We have considered a wide range of options before coming forward with a set of proposals for next year’s GCSE, AS and A level exams which will help reduce the pressure on students and teachers, while allowing them to progress with valid qualifications which higher educational institutions and employers can trust. I would encourage all those with an interest in our consultation to give us their views.”



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