Ofqual has published a consultation on whether to hold an autumn GCSE, AS- and A-level exam series in 2021, open from today until 9 April.
The aim of the autumn 2021 series, as in autumn 2020, is to give candidates awarded teacher-assessed grades the chance to sit an exam paper if they wish.
Here is what we learned so far about the regulator's proposals:
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GCSEs and A levels 2021: Ofqual proposals for autumn exams
1. There will be no advance topics given to students sitting exams
When the summer 2021 exams were expected to go ahead, Ofqual's previous consultation suggested that students should be given advance materials and topics to help focus their revision.
But Ofqual says there should be no advance topics given to students sitting exams in the autumn series, over fears this could create additional pressure on teachers and advantage students with access to private tutors.
There would be no formulae sheets or other materials to help students within the exam. Unlike in summer 2021, when teachers will only assess students on what they have been taught, autumn papers would cover the full curriculum.
2. The exams could be open to all students – including those without a teacher-assessed grade
Ofqual says it is seeking views on who should be able to sit exams in the autumn series.
It says the arrangements for the summer are flexible, to allow private candidates to receive a teacher-assessed grade.
But it says some private candidates might prefer to enter the autumn series instead of receiving a teacher-assessed grade from a school or college.
Ofqual says it proposes that exam boards accept autumn entries from students who they are "satisfied" would have taken exams in summer 2021, even if these students do not have a teacher-assessed grade.
And it says that "given the exceptional circumstances caused by the pandemic", it is seeking views on whether any student should be able to enter the autumn series, although it adds that "we think students studying for GCSEs or A levels will want to maximise their opportunities to catch up with their learning and to prepare fully for the summer 2022 exams" and "would not, therefore, wish to take exams in autumn 2021".
3. Students will be marked on their exam, not their coursework
For subjects that include a significant coursework component – for example, design and technology – Ofqual proposes that a student's grade should only be based on their performance in the autumn exam.
For students of these subjects receiving a teacher-assessed grade in summer 2021, their coursework will be marked and used by teachers to determine the grade they should receive, and marking will be adjusted to reflect the difficulties students have experienced over the past year. There is no requirement for exam boards to moderate coursework for teacher-assessed grades in the summer.
But for students sitting exams in autumn, only their exam performance will be taken into account, as they will have had difficulty accessing specialist equipment to complete projects because of the pandemic, and if they have moved to a new school or college by the autumn, it will be very difficult for them to start new coursework.
4. Art and design students will be assessed through their exam
For art and design students sitting exams in the autumn, they would be assessed only on their performance in the exam board set task.
Art students in summer 2021 will be awarded a grade based on their coursework portfolio only – worth 60 per cent of the total marks in a normal year.
But if students sit the autumn exam, their grade would only be based on the task set by boards, and this will be marked by examiners to avoid placing extra workload on teachers.
5. Students can carry forward grades for spoken language and science practicals
As in a normal exam year, Ofqual proposes that students of A-level science and GCSE English language can carry their grades for practical skills or spoken language forwards.
For A-level science and geology, students’ practical skills are assessed and reported separately – they receive a "pass" or "not classified" grade alongside the A*-E grade they receive for their exam performance.
GCSE English language students receive a separate grade for their spoken language skills of "pass", "merit", "distinction" or "non-classified" alongside the 9 to 1 grade they receive for their exam performance.
"For 2021 the same approach is to be used for spoken language in GCSE modern foreign languages," Ofqual says.
Students should be able to carry forward these separate grades when entered for the autumn series, Ofqual says.
6. GCSEs could be held later
Ofqual proposes that AS- and A-level exams should be held in October and GCSE exams in November and early December.
But it adds: "GCSE English language and maths exams are usually held in the first week of November. The dates of the exams for 2021 have already been published.
"We are interested in views on whether the dates for these exams should be changed so the exams would take place a couple of weeks later than usual. This would allow more time for students and [schools] to take entry decisions and for any outstanding appeals in respect of those qualifications to be completed."
7. No decision taken on grading
"We have not yet taken any decisions on the approach to grading in the autumn 2021 series," Ofqual says.
"Before taking any decisions, we will want to reflect on the outcomes from summer 2021 and the likely approach to exams in summer 2022."