GCSEs 2021: Papers to be 'similar' to 'normal exams'

External tests for this summer's GCSEs and A levels should have a similar style and format to normal exams, says Ofqual

Catherine Lough

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Papers used to assess this year's GCSE and A-level students should pose questions "similar in style and format to those in normal exam papers" it was proposed today.

The plan outlined by Ofqual and the Department for Education, in a consultation published today, follows the decision earlier this month to cancel normal exams this summer. 

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In full: Gavin Williamson's exams letter to Ofqual

The two-week consultation proposes that students sit an externally set task in May or June which would contribute to teachers' judgement of their overall grade.

While students will receive teacher-assessed grades this year, the consultation proposes an external test be used by teachers as part of the evidence they assess.

And it suggests that the papers use "questions that are similar in style and format to those in normal exam papers".

GCSEs and A levels 2021: Proposals for external tests

"This means that the sorts of questions used will be familiar to students, who typically use past papers to help them prepare for their exams. The exam boards might use a combination of questions from past papers and new questions to develop their papers," it adds.

This will likely cause further concern amongst teachers that while exams have been cancelled officially, these external assessments will be exams under another name.

Nicole Waters, a psychology and sociology teacher, said earlier today that the idea of external assessments marked by teachers sounded "like standard exams".

"Am I being daft or does this basically sound like standard exams but with more flexibility on time and teachers marking," she said.

"What was the point of saying exams were cancelled. Surely this defeats the whole cancelled concept."

Others said the proposals sounded like controlled assessments, a component where students sat some of their GCSE course in exam conditions at school which was scrapped under Michael Gove's reforms of the qualifications.

One former teacher suggested that, as with controlled assessments, these external tests could allow schools to cheat.

The consultation adds that the nature of papers set will need to be appropriate to the demands of each subject, and that "students must be given opportunities to show what they can do".

"For example, a student who was working towards a high grade in GCSE mathematics must be given the opportunity to show they could perform to a standard associated with that grade," it says.

"Similarly, a student who is working at a lower grade standard must have access to material which reflects that fact. For some subjects, such as GCSE English language, the same papers would be suitable for all students to take."

Ofqual and the DfE propose that exam boards develop the papers and then provide information on the topics included in them.

And the consultation says teachers may be given a choice of topics to cover with their students, to ensure they are being assessed on content they have had the opportunity to learn.

"We propose that the set of papers provided by the exam boards should cover a reasonable proportion of the content and that teachers should also have some choice of the topics on which their students could answer questions," it says.

"The set of papers could allow teachers the ability to choose from a set of shorter papers, based on topics, to allow teachers options to take account of content that has not been fully taught due to the disruption. In that scenario, multiple papers might be chosen to ensure sufficient coverage of what is assessed."

Papers will need to cover a similar proportion of content to "avoid disadvantaging a student who has to show how they can perform across a wider range of topics against one who has to show how they can perform in just a couple of topics", it says.

It adds that if the topics covered by the teacher’s assessment are too narrow, students will have less opportunity to show their level of attainment and will not have demonstrated a breadth of knowledge that allows them to progress in their education.

"We are seeking feedback on the minimum breadth of subject content a teacher must assess a student on. The exact approach would have to be tailored for each subject with details confirmed by the exam boards following this consultation," the consultation document says.


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author bio

Catherine Lough

Catherine Lough is a reporter at Tes.

Find me on Twitter @CathImogenLough

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