Issue 114a | February 2021

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Following the difficulties experienced in awarding examination grades last summer, on 15 January Ofqual launched a two-week consultation on its proposals for awarding grades for GCSE, A-Level, BTEC and other vocational and technical qualifications (VTQs), T-Levels and Functional Skills examinations this summer. When the consultation closed on 29 January, more than 100,000 responses had been received. On the basis of these responses Ofqual published has now published the decisions it has taken in respect of exams this year (see here). On 25 February, Gavin Williamson, the Secretary of State for Education in England confirmed Ofqual’s decisions in parliament (see here). A summary is given below:

GCSEs and A-Levels


  • GCSE and A-Level exam grades will be determined on the basis of teacher assessment. Unlike last year, an algorithm will not be used to moderate the grades given or to determine the range of grades awarded.
  • Students will only be assessed on what they have been taught.
  • Schools and colleges will not be expected to award grades to reflect last year’s results or those of any other earlier year.
  • A range of evidence will be used to help teachers determine student grades. This evidence will include mock exam results, coursework, essays, tests, assignments, and project work.
  • Exam boards will provide teachers with training and guidance on how to make grade judgments.
  • Exam boards will also publish exam questions, should teachers wish to use them, to help them to determine grades. These will be made available by the end of the spring term. Some exam questions will be based on past papers and others will be previously unseen. Exam boards will also provide exemplar model answers to these questions, as well as additional grade descriptors in the marking criteria to help teachers ascertain which grade is most appropriate for a student’s work. Exam questions will be made available for all subjects, and for all topic areas.
  • It will be up to teachers to decide on whether they use the exam questions provided, or not, but if exam questions are used, whole classes should take the same questions at the same time. Exam questions can be taken in the classroom and do not have to be taken in exam halls under exam conditions.
  • Performance in exam questions, if used, should not be the sole basis for assessing student grades.
  • Teachers will have until 18 June to submit student grades, to allow as much teaching time as possible.
  • Teachers will not be allowed to tell students’ their assessed grade before results days, but teachers are allowed to have a dialogue with their students about the evidence that will inform their grade.
  • A-Level results will be published on 10 August and GCSE results will be published on 12 August.
  • For those students who want a further chance to improve on their teacher assessed grades, a full autumn exam series will be held.

In the response to the Ofqual consultation, only 26% of students agreed that exam questions should be included in assessments, compared to 51% of parents, 69% of teachers and 72% of senior leaders.

Quality assurance

The absence of any external moderation of teacher assessed grades last year resulted in grade inflation, with A-Level grades being on average 12% higher than in the summer of 2019 and GCSE grades being, on average, 9% higher. This has led to concerns that a similar degree of grade inflation could occur this year. A member of the Ofqual Standards Advisory Group has gone so far as to warn that exam boards will have difficulty restraining ‘wildly inflated’ teacher-assessed GCSE and A-Level grades this year, resulting in ‘Weimar Republic levels’ of inflation and that some students will ‘get to university who shouldn’t be there’. To address the potential problem of grade inflation, new internal and external quality assurance measures have been required. These are as follows:

  • Schools and colleges should conduct internal quality checks on the consistency of teachers’ judgments across different subjects and ensure that the correct procedures have been followed.
  • The grading process will then be subject to three stages of external quality assurance:
  • Firstly, schools and colleges are required to send details of their internal quality assurance processes to exam boards.
  • Then, in June and July, exam boards will look at samples of teacher assessed grades.
  • If results are inexplicably lower or higher than would be reasonably expected, this will trigger an investigation by the exam board.


  • Students who believe their teacher has made an error in awarding their grades will be able to appeal.
  • The appeal will be to their school or college in the first instance. Schools and colleges dealing with appeals will check for errors or process issues but will not necessarily be required to amend their original judgment.
  • If the student is dissatisfied with the response, a further appeal can be made to the exam board, but only on the basis that the school or college had not acted in line with the exam board’s procedural requirements, and only after the school or college appeal process has been completed.
  • The exam board will then check the original judgement, considering all the evidence that the school or college had based the grade on, and make any final decision on the appeal. As at present, grades awarded on appeal can go up or down.
  • The DfE says that it is working through the details on how the appeals process will be funded but has confirmed that students will not be required to pay, nor will their school or college.

Private candidates

  • Private candidates, such as those who are being home schooled, will be assessed in the same way as other students.
  • Schools and colleges will be expected to provide private candidates with clear guidance on how they will be assessed and be given details of the evidence that will be used to assess them.
  • The DfE says that a list of available centres will be published shortly and that private candidates will be charged a similar fee to that in pre-pandemic years.
  • The process used to make judgements on the grades awarded for VTQs will depend on the nature of the courses leading to them. For this purpose, VTQs are divided into three broad categories and awarding bodies will set out what evidence is needed for each. These categories are:
  • VTQs that are most like GCSEs and A-levels.
  • VTQs that are used for direct entry into employment.
  • VTQS that are not like GCSEs or A-levels but are used for progression, such as Functional Skills.
  • For VTQs and other applied general qualifications that are most like GCSEs and A-levels, such as BTECs, and Cambridge Nationals and Technicals:
  • Exams will be replaced by teacher assessed grades, and as with GCSEs and A-Levels, will be based on a range of evidence, including coursework, mock exams, practical assignments, and internal tests. The focus will be on teachers only assessing what the student has been taught.
  • Where students have been unable to undertake practical assessments, and if the centre and the exam board deem it appropriate, students will have the option of retaking the assessment later.
  • Teachers will need to submit grades to exam boards by 18 June.
  • Results for Level 2 VTQs needed by students to secure a college place will be published on 12 August and those for Level 3 VTQs needed by students to secure a university place will be published on 10 August, to align with the publication of GCSE and A-Level results.


T-Level core component grades will be awarded this summer on the basis of teacher assessments drawing on a range of evidence. (The DfE had previously said that this process would be delayed until the Autumn).

  • For VTQs that are used for direct entry into employment (e.g. gas and electrical installation) and are needed to demonstrate the required level of occupational or professional competence:
  • These assessments will go ahead as planned, but only if a Covid-secure environment can be provided. If this is not possible the assessment should be delayed and taken at a later date.
  • For VTQs unlike GCSEs and A-levels but that are still used for progression, such as Functional Skills.
  • Exams will go ahead as normal, but only if they can be conducted in a Covid-secure environment. If this is not possible, grades can be assessed remotely. If remote assessment is not possible then grades can be determined by teacher assessment. (This, says the DfE, should help clear the ‘log jam’ of apprentices who have been unable to complete their apprenticeship because they have not been able to take their Functional Skills exams. Results for Functional Skills exams will be issued from April onwards).

Click Team – February 2021

As usual, the views and opinions expressed in this newsletter are not necessarily those held by Click.
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