Ofqual: Exam boards should offer all subjects in autumn

Ofqual says students should not sit a reduced number of subjects or 'shortened' exam papers this autumn

Catherine Lough

Coronavirus: Exam boards should offer GCSE and A-level papers in all subjects this autumn, says Ofqual

The exams regulator has proposed that boards should offer GCSE and A-level students the opportunity of sitting exams in all their subjects this autumn.

In a consultation document on the autumn exam series, published today, Ofqual says the series is intended as a chance for students unhappy with their teacher-assessed grade this year to sit an exam. The consultation closes on 8 June


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"If exam boards decide not to make exams available in the autumn for particular qualifications then any students who consider that the results issued to them this summer do not reflect how they would have performed in an exam in that qualification will be unable to take such an exam until summer 2021," the regulator said.

"Similarly, any students who cannot receive a calculated grade this summer will be unable to take exams until next summer.

"We recognise that if different opportunities were available to students, according to their subjects and exam boards, the autumn series will less effectively mitigate any unfairness which students and centres might consider arises from the exceptional arrangements for issuing grades this summer.

"The autumn series will only provide an opportunity for students to demonstrate their abilities in an exam to the extent that exam boards decide to make those exams available."

However, boards that received no entries for a subject would be able to withdraw the qualification so that they did not incur additional costs, the regulator said. 

Coronavirus: No 'shortened' GCSEs or A levels this autumn

The regulator also proposed that the exam papers sat in the autumn should not be modified to account for the time students have missed from school during the coronavirus outbreak. Previously, Tes reported that Ofqual was discussing the possibility that students could sit "shortened" exam papers in the autumn. 

Ofqual said shortened papers, or allowing students to sit just one paper in the subject rather than two, would not allow students to demonstrate their ability in the subject, which was a key aspect of the autumn series. It also meant that students who were ill on the day of an exam, in the case where only one paper was available, would be disadvantaged as they would not have completed 25 per cent of the assessment needed to receive a grade through special consideration.

Ofqual also said that a new style of paper would be "unfamiliar" to students, which could negatively impact on their performance and make the series more complicated for schools and colleges to administer. Writing a new style of paper would also incur extra costs for the exam boards, the regulator said. 

The regulator also proposed that non-exam assessments should not be taken into account for the autumn exams, as this would be unfair for students who had not completed coursework before schools closed. An exception would be made in the case of art and design subjects, which are purely assessed by non-exam assessment. Ofqual proposes that boards should set GCSE and A-level art candidates a new task to complete under supervised conditions to be marked by the boards, while students would not need to complete a portfolio of other work.

Ofqual also said that it did not currently know when the autumn series would take place, but that "we envisage that, if possible, AS- and A-level exams should take place in October and GCSE exams in November".

"We propose, therefore, to put in place provision for the exam boards to offer exams from October 2020 with the exact timing being confirmed by us, having taken advice from government, the exam boards and groups representing school and college leaders and teachers," the regulator added. 

Bill Watkin, chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges Association, said: “Sixth-form colleges will be pleased that the professionalism and expertise of teachers lie at the heart of these proposals.

"Ofqual has set out the fairest possible way to award A-level and GCSE grades in the absence of summer exams. However, there are inevitably going to be winners and losers this year because no one system can meet the needs of every centre and every young person.

"There are some important matters still to be addressed for the future, particularly the prospect of a full autumn exam season. Some of the proposals in the newly published consultation on this subject will present significant practical challenges to students and teachers – particularly the plan to offer a resit in every subject.

"Looking further ahead, the exams in summer 2021 are not going to escape unscathed, as students’ learning has been interrupted and it will be difficult to cover every element of the syllabus in these difficult times. Ofqual has done a good job so far, but students are going to need careful guidance and support as they face their future”.    

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, raised concerns about "the practicalities for schools and colleges in hosting a full exam series in the autumn, on top of everything else they will have to do as a result of the current crisis".

University and College Union general secretary Jo Grady said she remained concerned about a possible negative impact on disadvantaged students.

She said: "We are disappointed that more has not been done to recognise the impact that these changes will have on disadvantaged students. Without action, these groups are likely to be even more underrepresented."


 

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author bio

Catherine Lough

Catherine Lough is a reporter at Tes.

Find me on Twitter @CathImogenLough

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