Speed read: Five things schools need to know about plans for an autumn exam series

The exams regulator Ofqual has launched a consultation on how a new autumn exam series should work. 

Summer exams are cancelled this year as a result of the coronavirus outbreak and associated partial school closures. Pupils will instead receive grades from their schools.

However, ministers have said they want pupils who aren’t happy with their results to have the opportunity to sit exams in the autumn.

Here are the five main things you need to know about the proposals, which are open to responses for two weeks until June 8.

 

1. Exam boards ‘likely’ to offer full suite of qualifications

Ofqual said the exam boards are “likely” to offer a full suite of exams in Autumn.

But the regulator said that unless it introduces new rules, it will not be able to “compel them to”.

Ofqual has also warned that if it did compel exam boards to make qualifications available in all subjects, some of which may only receive a handful of entries, boards might “incur significant financial losses in the autumn series”. 

So the consultation proposes that once the entry deadline for the autumn exams has passed, an exam board that has received no entries can withdraw its exams from the timetable to help it avoid “unnecessary costs”.

 

2. Papers should be the same as they are in the summer

Ofqual said it considered whether the exams should diverge from those normally taken in the summer, to possibly make the autumn series more “managable” for centres and students. 

It looked at requiring exam boards to provide only one paper rather than several, or a new style of paper combining topics normally covered in two or more different ones. 

However, it has decided not to proceed with either option, for several reasons.

Firstly, the regulator believes students who are taking exams in the autumn to improve on their calculated grade “will need an opportunity to demonstrate their ability in the subject”.

It also said a new style of paper may be unfamiliar for pupils who will have likely used past papers as part of exam preparation. 

 

3. Grades should only be based on exam performance

The regulator is proposing grades should not factor in non-exam assessments (NEA), with the exception of those taken in art and design. 

It said the extent to which students will have been able to complete any NEAs before schools closed on March 20 will vary by centre and subject.

Similarly, how far it will be possible for students to undertake new non-exam assessments in the autumn will also vary,” the consultation document continues.

“We recognise that students who have completed non-exam assessment in anticipation of taking exams this summer may consider their work should be taken into account were they to take examinations in the autumn series. 

“However, students who were unable to complete their non-exam assessment, and who decide to take exams in the autumn series, might consider they would be disadvantaged in those circumstances.”

They said “to be fair to students”, they want to explore views on NEAs in the consultation.

 

4. Exam dates aren’t set yet

Because of the current uncertainty about when schools and colleges will full re-open and the public health restrictions that may be in place, Ofqual is not consulting on the exact dates when exams should take place.

However, the organisation envisages that AS and A-level exams will take place in October, and GCSEs in November. 

The exact timing will be confirmed at a later date by Ofqual, based on advice from government, the exam boards and groups representing schools, colleges, teachers and students. 

Following discussions with exam boards, Ofqual believes autumn A-level results could be published before Christmas and GCSEs in February. 

However, results for GCSE English and maths could be published in January.

 

5. Exam boards may be able to issue replacement certificates

Ofqual looked at five options around certificates and settled on one which will allow exam boards to respond to requests to for replacement certificates that show the higher of either the calculated or the autumn exam grade.

However, exam boards would not be forced to do so.

The regulator said it recognised this could lead to variations bertween exam boards, but said if they required all boards to make this facility available “they would need to change their operating systems in a way that could be costly and introduce risks to the safe and timely production of certificates”.

“We believe it would be disproportionately burdensome to require all exam boards to make provision for a service that no, or very few, students might wish to use. On the other hand, we would not want to stop an exam board that was able and willing to provide such a service from doing so.”