The 2021 summer exams plan: everything you need to know

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Exams regulator Ofqual has this afternoon published its proposals for replacing exams this year.

In short: the regulator is proposing grades for this year will be determined by teachers and, following “quality reassurance”, results will be issued by exam boards, who will “remain accountable for the results”.

Exam boards will record the grades on certificates in the same way as in previous years.

Here’s your trusty Schools Week round-up of all the important things you need to know.


1. Assessments to be done ‘late May/early June’

Ofqual wants pupils to “engage fully” in their education for the remainder of the year. So, the regulator is proposing teachers making final assessments of their students’ performance during late May and early June. Ofqual said any later than this would delay releasing grades. If it was earlier, there would be insufficient time for teachers to assess their students.

Ofqual is also looking for views on whether work done earlier in the year should be taken into account.


2. Grades based on current performance – not what students would’ve achieved

Last year, teachers were asked to come up with a grade they thought a student would have achieved had they had set their exams. This has been ditched.

But, under the new plan, Ofqual wants the grade to be based on teachers’ assessments of the “evidence of the standard at which their students are performing; it should indicate their demonstrated knowledge, understanding and skills”.

“Teachers should assess students on the areas of content they have covered and can demonstrate their ability, while ensuring sufficient breadth of content coverage so as not to limit progression,” the consultation added.


3. Exam boards providing papers for teachers to mark …

Ofqual is proposing that exam boards could provide papers which would be marked by teachers to help inform their assessments.

The exam boards could then sample teachers’ marking for quality assurance and “seek to ensure this was comparable across different types of school and college”.

Ofqual suggests that the boards may use a combination of questions from past papers and new questions to “develop their papers”. Teachers should have some choice of the topics to “take account of content that has not been fully taught due to the disruption. In that scenario, multiple papers might be chosen to ensure sufficient coverage of what is assessed.”

Boards should also give guidance on how teachers should take into account other evidence and “factors that might have affected their performance in the papers”.


4. … and coursework to be included

The regulator is proposing teachers  take into account the standard of a student’s non-exam assessment in their final grade.

Ofqual says students should not be penalised if they have been unable to complete their non-exam assessment for “reasons beyond their control”.

Where this has happened, teachers should take it into account when deciding on the weight they give to the paper and non-exam assessment.

“The exam boards could provide guidance on this, including on any changes to the conditions under which the assessments should be taken. The weighting used by the teacher would need to be recorded, to support the exam boards’ quality assurance and any appeal by the student”

But while teachers should mark non-exam assessments, exam boards would not be required to moderate their marking.


5. Teachers can use their own papers, too

Regardless of whether a teacher decides to use the exam board papers for assessment, teachers should use other ways to assess students – which boards could provide guidance on.

If teachers devise their own assessment materials, they should be “comparable in demand” to the exam board papers and have mark schemes.

Ofqual says other evidence could include formal tests, mocks and “substantial candidate work”.

Greater weight should also be given to evidence of students’ performance that is closer to the time of the final assessment.

6. Exams can be completed at home

Ofqual said it expects students’ performance will be assessed within their school or college. If this is not possible due to the pandemic, papers could be completed “in an alternative venue, including a student’s home”.

But if any of the evidence used to determine a final assessment was not completed under a teacher’s supervision (either directly or remotely), the student would be required to make an appropriate declaration they did not receive unauthorised assistance.


7. ‘Menu’ of exams so pupils don’t know which one they are sitting

Exam papers should also be set within in a “set period of time”. Without this, students who take papers later might be at an advantage, particularly if the content is leaked.

Ofqual says this could be reduced by exam boards creating a “menu of papers” for teachers to choose from. These could be deliberately published not long before the assessment window opened, although students “would not know which one(s) they would be required to complete”.

Ofqual is also seeking views on how long this assessment period should be. After this consultation, it will ask for schools’ opinion on which dates would work for each subject.


8. Exams boards to provide support on grading

It is proposed that exam boards should provide support materials and training to help teachers assess their students, including exemplars, information on other performance evidence that could be taken into account and best practice on avoiding bias and discrimination

The guidance would also likely cover how to consider the impact of events outside a student’s control on their performance, such as illness or family bereavement.


9. School leaders to sign off on grades

Schools would be asked to put in place internal standardisation arrangements and a process for heads of department and school leaders to agree and sign off on grades submitted by teachers.

A key part of this would be a declaration by a school leader confirming exam boards’ requirements have been met. Evidence used to inform grades would need to be retained by schools to support external quality assurance by exam boards and in case of appeals.


10. Exam boards to sample evidence

Exam boards would then quality assure the approach taken by each school, working together to ensure their approaches are consistent and don’t impost “unnecessary burden” on schools.

It is also proposed that exam boards should sample evidence on which grades were based at subject-level.

Where exam boards find that schools had not used appropriate quality assurance arrangements or that their requirements had not been followed, they should not issue grades until they are satisfied there is evidence to support them.

They would then require school leaders to investigate and make “any necessary changes” to the grade before finally submitting to the board. This means grades would only change as a result of “human intervention”.


11. Grades only changed if they’re ‘not legitimate’

Ofqual is proposing that teachers should not tell students their grades, but that once results are issued, students who believe their teacher has made an error should be able to appeal to their school on that basis.

Schools would then review the marking of papers provided by exam boards or schools, the marking of any non-exam assessments and other evidence used to arrive at the pupil’s grade.

Appeals should be considered “by a competent person appointed by the school” who was not involved in the original assessment, for example another teacher at the school or a teacher from another setting.

If an error is found, the outcome of the teacher assessment could then be adjusted up or down, but should only be changed if the person undertaking the appeal found that the outcome was “not legitimate – that the outcome could not have been arrived at by a person who was reasonably exercising their academic judgement”.

Ofqual is also proposing that students should also be able to appeal further to exam boards, but only once they had received the outcome of an appeal to their school.

These appeals would not be on the merits of the teacher assessment or the school’s appeal decision, but rather on the grounds that a school “had not acted in line with the exam board’s procedural requirements” either when assessing the student or considering an appeal.

If an exam board upheld an appeal, the school would be required to reconsider the grade it recommended for the student.

Exam boards “would decide whether to charge a separate fee for appeals made to them”.


12. Private candidates could be allowed to sit normal exams

One of the (many) issues with last year’s system to replace exams was that it left some private candidates unable to be awarded a grade.

It’s clear Ofqual still doesn’t have one firm solution for this, so instead they’ve offered up four potential approaches.

The first would see private candidates complete the papers set by exam boards for use in schools and colleges – with a grade issued in line with a candidate’s performance.

The second would see the candidate work with a school to assess the standard to which they are performing using the same type of evidence schools are using when considering grades for their own pupils.

It has also been suggested exam boards run normal exams for private candidates or they sit the normal exams in the autumn term, although “appropriate venues would need to be provided” for both these scenarios.


13. Ofqual mulls banning of GCSEs in other countries

The watchdog says if it is possible for exams to be taken safely in other countries, it may be appropriate to let those students sit exams as it is the best way to assess performance and the students may not otherwise be issued with a grade.

However, it has warned allowing these exceptions may give “rise to concerns that there were two types of grades awarded – one based on a student’s performance in exams and one based on teacher assessment”.

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  1. Sandra Parry

    IGCSE’S should be tutor assessed grades from assignment s completed by the student. It is not fair or safe for students to sit exams during these unprecedented times.

  2. Ali Streer

    How can children sit exams or in the governments new word assessments, which basically means exams. The children have not been taught since mid March -July 2020 and from Jan 2021 that doesn’t even take into account all the weeks of self isolation they had to go through. It feels no one is listening to the reality of what the A level students in particular are going through. Learning via YouTube video clips is not being taught a subject of this level. Look forward to hearing from you

  3. Can someone help me, please?

    I am totally confused by the inherent contradiction by these words on page 22 of the consultation document:

    “In both cases – for exams and non-exam assessments – the original mark must not be changed unless a marking error has been made. For many assessments it is not possible to say what is a ‘right’ mark for a student’s work. This is because markers must exercise their academic judgement when giving the mark. It is often the case that 2 trained markers could give slightly different marks for the same answer and that both marks would be legitimate. In this case if the original mark given can be supported it should stand.”

    If two “slightly different marks” happen to lie on different sides of a grade boundary, surely there is a very big problem indeed – a problem that needs to be resolved by an appeal. But it seems as if such an appeal is not allowed.

    I just don’t understand… especially when the letter from Simon Lebus to Gavin Williamson dated 13 January speaks of the need to “serve natural justice”.

  4. Josephine Shipton

    I’m an exams access arrangement assessor at an FE College; what will happen for those students who would have exam arrangements – will this still need to be put in place?

  5. Hassib Nasseri

    I believe that they should give a combination of predicted grades and mock examination results but lean in favour of the student as they would likely have worked hard and got a higher grade at gcse level

  6. I strongly believe private candidates should be treated the same as everyone else. They should be able to work with a school / collage and get assessed based on evidence. If they are taught by a qualified teacher, that teacher should be able to submit a grade providing evidence. You can’t have some students sitting exams and some being teachers assessed. My child was in school last year but has studied at home because of health problems but has carried on with the same teacher she had in school and has had disruptions so it’s only fair she would be assessed in the same way as her peers!

  7. I completely agree, many private candidates didn’t receive a grade last year even when they were taught by qualified teachers working in schools. It’s a disgrace, they seem to be the forgotten children and I believe no decision has yet been made for them this year leaving many in limbo again.

  8. Exams are cancelled because learning has been disrupted over the course of the 2 years. Poor inadequate teaching (sorry, but it is very very true). Students told that they have to be self directed in their learning, which means they have taught themselves much of the content, 10 – 20 minute input sessions, if that. Fact. And the reason been is because teachers can’t do any more! Apparently this is suffice in replacing 2 hour face to face lessons.

    Who are you doing this for? Because it certainly not for the poor kids that are being subjected to this circus experience. Last year had their exams cancelled, when in actual fact they could have sat the exams. This cohort, have had their learning interrupted throughout the 2 years and they are being expected to sit end of year exams.

    Teachers are currently been told by heads that they are not to carry out any assessments now and to wait until the end of the year.

    It is an absolute joke. Teachers, or leaders couldn’t care less about the kids, only themselves.


  9. Exams are cancelled because learning has been disrupted over the course of the 2 years. However, in actual fact they aren’t. Students will still be sitting end of year assessments – head teachers confirming this.

    Poor inadequate teaching (sorry, but it is very very true). Students told that they have to be self directed in their learning, which means they have taught themselves. 20 minutes max if lucky lessons And the reason been is because teachers can’t do any more! Apparently this is suffice in replacing 2 hour face to face lessons.

    How much do you think our children can take? I honestly think that heads, leaders and others don’t really care, they are far too detached and thinking about the future to care about the damage they are causing in the here and now. It’s like we are quite happy to hang our young people out to dry. It’s shameful. Give them their predicted grades and let them heal and rest before hitting university or work life.

  10. I’m a private candidate but have been working off course content given to me with very little tutor contact. There is no way I could be predicted a grade by a tutor. The only option for me is to take exams as normal or yet again push my exams back a year, it’s cost me over £1000 to do this A level so am hoping I get a chance at exams.