GCSEs 2021: Covid impact may be flagged next to grades

Expert group may recommend that students who have lost disproportionate learning time could be given a Covid 'asterisk'

Catherine Lough

GCSEs 2021: An asterisk could go next to students' grades to highlight a disproportionate amount of lost learning because of the coronavirus

Students who have lost disproportionate amounts of learning due to disruption caused by the pandemic may be given a Covid "asterisk" alongside their 2021 exam grades to help them progress on to higher or further education, Tes understands.

Although differential grading by region has been ruled out by the government, it is understood that a new expert advisory group in regional variation could recommend that students in the areas worst-hit by the coronavirus might be given a statement or asterisk denoting their level of learning loss to sit alongside their exam grades next year. 


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The expert group is being set up after sustained pressure from headteachers and others concerned that their students will not be taking exams on a level playing field because of the variation in disruption to schools in different parts of the country caused by the pandemic.

Coronavirus: The impact of lost learning time on GCSEs

Yesterday, heads in the North East said that a return to centre-assessed grades may be the only way forward in order to address the “huge regional variations within England in terms of disruption to students' education”.

They also raised concerns about their students competing with students in Wales, where exams in 2021 have been cancelled and centre-assessed grades will be awarded. 

And in November, headteachers spoke of the "dramatic" levels of learning loss they were seeing among their students due to the coronavirus crisis, revealed by mock exams and catch-up tests, with one head reporting that students were a grade behind expected progress compared with last year. 

In October, the Northern Powerhouse Partnership of local authorities and regional business leaders said the Department for Education should commit to continuous assessment for students' grades this year, warning that pushing ahead with exams will risk another fiasco next summer.

Ofqual has said previously that using a symbol on GCSE and A-level certificates to highlight disruption caused by the pandemic to an individual candidate – rather than changing actual grades – has "potential".

This "one-off special flagging system alongside exam grades" would recognise the minority of students most seriously affected by Covid-19, as they would receive an asterisk or star next to their exam result on their certificates if schools judged that they had underachieved in exams. 

Tes understands there is some senior sector support for the idea of using an asterisk to denote learning loss.

However, other figures close to DfE discussions are less keen on the idea as they feel it will not solve the problem of dealing with differential learning loss overall, Tes understands.

Today, education secretary Gavin Williamson announced a package of support measures for the 2021 cohort, including more generous levels of grading in line with the 2020 results, and a series of contingency papers for students who miss summer exams because they are ill or self-isolating.

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author bio

Catherine Lough

Catherine Lough is a reporter at Tes.

Find me on Twitter @CathImogenLough

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