Revealed: Williamson sets out his plan for replacing exams this year


Education secretary Gavin Williamson has this morning outlined his expectation for how exams will be replaced this year. In a letter to exams regulator Ofqual, he said that grades should be issued “as late as possible”, with teacher assessments only changed as apart of the moderation process in the “exception”, and wants the idea of externally set exams to be explored.

His letter outlining the process to decided alternative arrangements for exams can be read here.

Ofqual has also published a responding letter from its chief regulator Simon Lebus, which can be read here.


1. Teacher assessments should be informed by ‘breadth of evidence’ …

Williamson said he wants to support teachers to assess their students in a “fair and consistent fashion. A breadth of evidence should inform teachers’ judgements, and the provision training and guidance will support teachers to reach their assessment of a student’s deserved grade”.

He’s asked this is “drawn out in the consultation”.


2. … But plans must ‘minimise additional burden’

Ofqual has been told this need for evidence must be balanced against minimising additional burdens for teachers and schools.

“It is my view that the consultation should set out proposals which allow students to be assessed based on what they have learnt, rather than against content they have not had a chance to study,” Williamson said.

“This will need to be balanced against the need to ensure good enough coverage of the curriculum for all students to support successful progress.”


3. Grades to be issued “as late as possible”

Williamson said it is “vital we maximise the remaining opportunity for them to be taught for as long as possible, so they have every opportunity to catch up.

“It is my view that a teacher’s final judgement on a student’s grade ought to be as late as possible in the academic year to maximise remaining teaching time and ensure students are motivated to remain engaged in education,” he added.

Ofqual agrees. Lebus said doing so will “give students a greater sense of agency, which is critical to securing widespread acceptance of the outcomes”.


4. Ofqual to explore setting external exams

The education secretary has also asked the exams regulator to explore the “possibility of providing externally set tasks or papers, in order that teachers can draw on this resource to support their assessments of students”.

“We should seek views in the consultation on what broader evidence should determine a teacher’s assessment of a student’s grade and whether we should require or recommend the use of the externally set tasks or papers,” he added.

Ofqual is in favour of this. Lebus told Williamson: “We know that the more the evidence comes from students’ performance in externally set papers, the fairer and more consistent teachers’ assessments are likely to be, because all students are given the chance to show what they can do in the same way”.


5. Warning over results ‘looking different’ to previous years

When exams were going ahead, Ofqual had pledged that results would be as generous as those issued last year. However the new plan seems to have changed that.

Lebus warned it was “important that the consultation makes clear to all, especially those who rely on the results to make selection decisions, that overall outcomes this year will likely look different from 2020 and previous years”.

He said told Williamson this will be “important for your work with the post-16 and higher education sectors to secure orderly progression and to protect the interests of disadvantaged students”.


6. But definitely no algorithm

As already announced, there will be no algorithm to standardise grades.

Instead, Williamson wants schools and colleges to undertake quality assurance of their teachers’ assessments and “provide reassurance to the exam boards”.

“We should provide training and guidance to support that, and there should also be external checks in place to support fairness and consistency between different institutions and to avoid schools and colleges proposing anomalous grades.”

7. Any grade changes should ‘be the exception’

After the fallout of last year’s algorithm, where 40 per cent of teacher grades were marked down, Williamson now wants any changes to grades as a result of quality assurance to “be the exception”.

He added: “The process will not involve second-guessing the judgement of teachers but confirming that the process and evidence used to award a grade is reasonable. Changes should only be made if those grades cannot be justified, rather than as a result of marginal differences of opinion.

“Any changes should be based on human decisions, not by an automatic process or algorithm.”


8. There will also be an appeals route

Williamson said there should be a route for any student who doesn’t believe their grade reflects the standard of their work to appeal, details of which should be “explored fully” in the consultation.

He also said a plan needs to be developed for private candidates – such as home schooled children – to get a grade.


9. International Baccalaureate ‘should be same’ as GCSEs

Williamson said he believes other general qualifications, such as core maths and the

International Baccalaureate, should have a similar approach to GCSEs and A-levels.


10. Alternative arrangements for BTECs and other vocational quals

External exams scheduled to take place in the next few months for vocational and technical qualifications students that enable a student to demonstrate the proficiency required to enter directly into employment should “continue to proceed with protective measures put in place to ensure they are conducted in line with PHE measures”.

However, for all other VTQs with written exams, including BTECs and other qualifications in league tables, it is “no longer viable for these exams to go ahead. Views on alternative arrangements for these qualifications should be sought in the consultation.

Williamson also said that VTQs will need to have “alternative arrangements to examined assessments and that we should use this consultation to seek views on the detail of these arrangements and the qualifications in scope of this approach.

“These arrangements may need to be different in some cases to those put in place last year to take account of the different circumstances.”

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