GCSEs 2021: Teacher-assessed grades get green light

GCSE and A-level students to get results in early August with an exam series in autumn for those unhappy with the grades

Catherine Lough

Green light exams

Plans for A-level and GCSE students to receive grades awarded through teacher assessment this year, with help from exam boards, are to go ahead.

But, as Tes revealed this week, students will not get their results in early July as Ofqual and the Department for Education had originally proposed. Results day will be in early August instead, giving a buffer of two weeks for students to appeal grades before securing university places.

They will be assessed on a range of evidence, including external tasks set by exam boards, coursework, mock exams, and class or homework assignments.

There will be an autumn series of exams for students who are unhappy with their teacher-assessed grade.

A-level students will receive their grades on 10 August, while GCSE pupils will receive their grades on 12 August.

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The external exam board tasks will be optional for teachers to set, and will mainly consist of questions from past papers. These assessments are not expected to be carried out in exam conditions, and teachers will be given flexibility over the length of time students have to complete tasks and where they are carried out.

But some new questions will be made available as part of the material from boards, so that teachers can choose to set questions that have never been sat before.

Students will also not be assessed on material they have not been taught because of the disruption to education caused by the pandemic.

The final decision comes after the Association of School and College Leaders said students should not be expected to sit compulsory “mini-exams” to help teachers assess them.

Schools will have until 18 June to submit their grades to exam boards, following internal quality assurance processes.

The DfE said schools and colleges would conduct multiple checks – such as on the consistency of judgments across teachers and that the correct processes are followed – to ensure as much fairness as possible.

Exam boards will also conduct their own checks, through random sampling of schools' submitted grades.

The final plan comes after a joint consultation on exams received more than 100,000 responses – with more than half coming from students themselves.

Education secretary Gavin Williamson said: “Young people have shown incredible resilience over the last year, continuing with their learning amidst unprecedented challenges while the country battles with this pandemic. Those efforts deserve to be fairly rewarded.

“That’s why we are providing the fairest possible system for those pupils, asking those who know them best – their teachers – to determine their grades, with our sole aim to make sure all young people can progress to the next stage of their education or career.”

Ofqual’s interim chief regulator Simon Lebus said: “The aim is to make it no harder overall for this year’s students to receive a particular grade than students in other years.”

Exam boards will provide guidance to teachers on how to make judgments before the Easter holidays.

Leora Cruddas, chief executive of the Confederation of School Trusts, said: “There is a reasonable consensus that teacher judgment will need to be both supported, scaffolded and quality assured.

“This is because although the pandemic has had a damaging impact, we still want assessment outcomes this year to reflect something objective.”

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the school leaders’ union NAHT, said the plans “appear to chart a path which avoids the awful chaos of last year”.

He said: “This set of decisions is, however, only the starting point. It is now down to the awarding bodies to provide the detail which schools and colleges need to implement the process.

“Although earlier results for students seeking to start university could be beneficial, cramming GCSE results into the same week will place unnecessary pressure on to the system.”

Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU teaching union, said the final decisions are “better” than the original proposals, adding it is “likely the least worst option available”.

But she added: “However, there are still question marks over how it is expected that the extra work necessary to facilitate grading will be dealt with.

“Substantial time will need to be set aside for the initial assessments and gradings and then the internal school moderation processes. It may well be that extra staff need to be employed to release teachers for this important work.”

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author bio

Catherine Lough

Catherine Lough is a reporter at Tes.

Find me on Twitter @CathImogenLough

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