In full: GCSE and A level 2021 Ofqual and DfE proposals

The DfE and Ofqual have begun a consultation on how GCSEs and A levels results will be decided this summer. Read all the details here
15th January 2021, 3:36pm
William Stewart


In full: GCSE and A level 2021 Ofqual and DfE proposals
Exam Hall

New detailed plans for deciding this summer's GCSE and A level results have been unveiled today. 

The joint Department for Education and Ofqual consultation - open to parents and students - as well as those working in education, will run for two weeks.

It asks a series questions on the details of a plan for teacher assessed approaced which was broadly outlined in an exchange of letters between Ofqual and DfE earlier this week.

Gavin Williamson suggested that teacher assessments should take place as late as possible to give students more time for study.

The education secretary said the assessment could draw on external papers and tasks, but said teacher judgements would not be "second-guessed."

Tes revealed last night that the plan for this year is expected to end up involving teachers marking questions set by exam boards.

GCSEs 2021: Teachers to mark exam board questions

Exams: Ofqual's letter on summer grades

In full: Gavin Williamson's exams letter to Ofqual

Here are the proposals outlined in today's consultation:




Proposed that:

*Students would be assessed by their teachers in a period beginning in May into early June

•Teachers would submit grades to the exam boards by mid-June

• External quality assurance by the exam boards ongoing throughout June

• Results would be issued to students once the QA process is complete, most likely in early July

• Student appeals could be submitted immediately following the issue of results and would first be considered by schools and colleges


What the grades will mean


"We propose grades this year should 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.

"This is important given that the grades will be indistinguishable from grades issued by exam boards in other years.

"The exam boards that will issue the results need to be confident the grades are justifiable.

"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."



When teachers should assess the standard at which students are performing


Proposed that: "The final assessment of a student's performance should be as late in the academic year as practicable." 

That: "Students this year should be given time to complete their non-exam assessments, to contribute to the evidence teachers use to determine the grade the student should receive."

Propose that teachers make final assessments of students during late May and early June.

"If the assessments were undertaken earlier, perhaps in April, then students would unnecessarily miss out on more of their education.

"If they were assessed later, perhaps in July, this would delay the release of results, as there would be insufficient time for teachers to assess their students and for the necessary internal and external quality assurance measures to be taken. This could in turn delay students' progression at the start of the next academic year."



How teachers should determine the grades they submit to exam boards


Proposed that teachers:

*"Only take evidence-based decisions about the grade they recommend"

*Use "a breadth of evidence" and assess students objectively.

*Should record the evidence on which they base their decision for each student. 


Exam boards should:

*Support teachers with guidance and training

*Provide papers which teachers could use to assess their students which  would support consistency within and between schools and colleges and could help with appeals.

*Sample teachers' marking as part of the external quality assurance arrangements

*Use questions in their papers similar in style and format to those in normal exam papers so the sorts of questions used will be familiar to students,

*Might use a combination of questions from past papers and new questions 

*Provide papers that cover a reasonable proportion of the content but also give teachers some choice of the topics on which their students could answer questions.

*Give teachers guidance on how to take account of other evidence of the standard at which the student was working and of factors that might have affected their performance in the papers. 


Views invited on whether:

*Papers provided by the exam boards should be compulsory or optional, for GCSEs, AS and A levels?

*Teachers using exam board papers should have a choice about the topics covered in the questions their students answer

*Teachers should be required to assess a certain minimum proportion of the overall subject content, for each subject

*Teachers should mark any papers their students are asked to complete.  



Subjects with non-exam assessment and separately reported results and grades


Proposed that teachers should take account of the standard of the student's non-exam assessment in their final assessment.

"In some subjects, students will not have completed their non-exam assessments because of the disruption caused by the pandemic. Teachers will need to take this into account when deciding on the relative weight they give to the paper and the non exam assessment.

"We believe that students should not be penalised if they have been unable to complete their non-exam assessment for reasons beyond their control."

*Art and design GCSE, AS and A levels are assessed by non-exam assessment only. "For 2021, students' grades were to be based on their portfolio. We propose that the student's portfolio - whether or not it is complete at the time of the assessment - should be the sole evidence teachers use to decide on the grade the student should be awarded."



Other performance evidence


Proposed that teachers should be able to take other evidence of a student's performance into account when deciding on the grade to be submitted to the exam board.

"If teachers do not use the exam board set papers, or even where they do, they should use additional ways to assess students and to gather evidence of the standard at which their students are performing.

"Exam boards would provide guidance on how they could do this. We propose that where teachers devise their own assessment materials, they should be comparable in demand to the papers provided by the exam boards."

"We propose that any teacher devised assessments used to support the final assessment should be used at the same time as the exam board papers would be taken, to avoid any students being unfairly advantaged or disadvantaged." 

Proposed that  other sources of performance evidence could include:

• formal tests

• mock exam results

• "substantial candidate work" (which relates to the qualification specification, and where the school or college are confident it was completed without support / external support)

Proposed that, in the most casts, greater weight should be given to evidence of a student's performance that is closer to the time of the final assessment


The assessment period


If schools and colleges use exam board provided papers or create their own, we propose they should be used by teachers within a set period of time.

If students who are completing the papers do so at different times there is a risk that students taking the papers later in the window might be at an advantage, particularly if the content of the papers is leaked.

This risk could be reduced by:

(a) the exam boards creating a menu of papers from which teachers would choose. The papers could be deliberately published shortly before the assessment window opened, although students would not know which one(s) they would be required to complete

(b) all students completing the papers for a particular subject within a certain time frame-"we are seeking views on how long that should be"



The conditions under which students should be assessed


*Expected that students' performance will be assessed within their school or college - "we are hopeful that the course of the pandemic will make this possible in line with public health guidance in place at the time".

*However, even if this is possible for most students, it might not be possible for all.

Therefore proposed that, "if the pandemic makes it essential":

*Papers could be completed at an alternative venue, including a student's home,

"If any evidence used to determine a final assessment was not completed under the supervision of a teacher (either directly or remotely), the student (and anyone supervising them) would be required to make an appropriate declaration that they had not received unauthorised assistance.

"For any paper it had set, an exam board would specify the time that a student should be given to complete it and whether they should have access to any materials, such as a calculator. Usual provisions for disabled students to have reasonable adjustments would be made."



Internal quality assurance


"Schools and colleges, working independently or as part of a group, would agree on their approach to assessment (within any choices available) and in line with exam board requirements..."

"They would put in place internal standardisation arrangements, and a procedure for heads of department and then the head of centre would agree and sign off the grades submitted by their teachers.

"The evidence used to inform teacher grades would need to be retained, both to support the exam boards' external quality assurance and in case of an appeal by a student." 



External quality assurance


"We propose that the exam boards should quality assure the approach taken by each school and college and that the exam boards should work together, where appropriate, to make sure their approaches are both consistent and do not impose unnecessary burden on schools and colleges."

"The role of exam boards is to verify that schools are complying with the published guidance, prior to the awarding of grades. The exam boards should ensure that all school and college senior leaders know what is expected of them and their teachers and that they have put in place appropriate arrangements to support their teachers to fulfil their role.

"We propose that the exam boards should require assurance about the internal quality assurance arrangements all schools or colleges have used.

"Exam boards should also sample, at subject level, the evidence on which the submitted grades were based.

"If an exam board found that a school or college had not used appropriate quality assurance arrangements or that the exam board's requirements had not otherwise been followed, the exam board should not issue a result for the affected students until the exam board was satisfied there was evidence to support the submitted grade(s).

"If an exam board found that the evidence of a student's performance did not support the grade a teacher submitted it would require the head of the school or college to investigate and make any necessary changes to the grade before finally submitting to the board.

"Grades would only change, in this process, as a result of human intervention.

"The exam board should not issue a result until it is satisfied with the outcome of the investigation." 

"We propose that the exam boards could only change submitted grades after a review of the evidence and following discussion with the school or college."



How students could appeal their grade


Proposed that:

*Teachers should not tell students the grade they have submitted to the exam boards on their behalf.

*That once results have been issued a student who believes their teacher has made an error when they assessed their performance in 2021 should be able to appeal to their school or college on that basis.

*The review would encompass both a review of the marking of any papers provided by the exam board or the school or college itself, the marking of any non exam assessment, as well as a review of the other evidence used by the teacher to arrive at the overall grade.

*That the appeal should be considered by a competent person appointed by the school or college, who had not been involved with the original assessment - this could be another teacher in the school or college or a teacher from another school or college.

*That if an error was found it would be corrected. The outcome of the teacher assessment could be adjusted up or down as necessary to correct the error.

*That the outcome of the teacher assessment 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.

*That a student should also be able to appeal further to the exam board. But this would not be an appeal on the merits of the teacher assessment of the school or college's appeal decision.

*An appeal to the exam board would be on the grounds that the school or college had not acted in line with the exam board's procedural requirements, either when assessing the standard at which the student was performing or when considering the student's appeal.

*A student could not appeal to the exam board on the basis that either the teacher assessment or the appeal decision was not a reasonable exercise of academic judgment where the correct procedure had been followed.

*If the exam board upheld the appeal, it would require the school or college to reconsider the grade it recommended for a student.

*That students could not appeal to the exam board until they had the outcome of their appeal to the school or college.

*The exam boards would decide whether to charge a separate fee for appeals made to them.

"We recognise this will be a difficult process for schools, colleges and exam boards to manage and that it will place additional pressures on teachers at the end of the most challenging of years.

"However, we do not believe the arrangements will command the confidence of students unless there is provision for them to appeal their grades or the process by which they were assessed."

*To relieve pressure on the appeals process, "we are seeking views on whether results day(s) in 2021 should be brought forward as this could be of benefit to students, schools and colleges and further and higher education providers".



Private candidates


4 possible approaches:

(a) for private candidates to complete the papers set by the exam boards for use in schools and colleges. The exam boards would mark the papers (and any completed non-exam assessment) and issue a grade to the private candidate based on their performance.

(b) for private candidates to work with a school or college willing to assess the standard at which they are performing - using the same type of evidence the school and college is considering for its students.

(c) for the exam boards to run normal exams for private candidates to take in the summer of 2021 - appropriate venues would need to be provided.

(d) for the exam boards to run normal exams for private candidates to take in the autumn of 2021 - appropriate venues would need to be provided.

"We recognise that, given the pressures on schools and colleges created by the pandemic, and the potential public health considerations, schools and colleges might be reluctant to make entries for and then assess private candidates this year."



Whether Ofqual should prohibit the taking of GCSE, AS and A level exams in England, the UK and elsewhere in the world


*"Government policy is that GCSE, AS and A level exams should not take place in England in summer 2021.

*"We need to decide whether the exam boards should be prohibited from offering exams in England, in other parts of the UK and elsewhere in the world.

*"A dual system, whereby some students in other countries took GCSE, AS and A level exams, but students' grades in England were determined by teacher assessment, might give rise to concerns that there were 2 types of grades awarded - one based on a student's performance in exams and one based on teacher assessment.

*"However, if it is possible for exams to be safely taken in at least some countries, and as exams are the best way to assess student performance, it might be appropriate to allow them to be taken by students who will not otherwise be able to be issued with a grade. Exams might also be the best route for private candidates in England."




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