GCSEs 2021: 6 Ofqual plans for autumn exams

Six things we learned from Ofqual's confirmed plans for an autumn exam series for GCSEs, A levels and AS levels

Catherine Lough

GCSEs and A levels 2021: 6 Ofqual plans for autumn exams

Exams regulator Ofqual today confirmed that an exam series for GCSE, A-level and some AS exams will be going ahead for students awarded a teacher-assessed grade this summer. Here is what we learned:


GCSEs 2021: Autumn exams offered for all subjects

GCSEs 2021: 7 Ofqual proposals for autumn exams

Autumn GCSEs: Advance topics risk teacher 'pressure'


1. GCSE and A-level exams will be in their usual format

Ofqual had previously said there should be no advance topics given to students sitting exams in the autumn series, and today it confirmed that exams will be in their normal format with no adaptations made.

In its consultation on the autumn series, the regulator proposed that the autumn series should include the normal number of papers per subject, and, overall, 74 per cent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed with this.

And nearly nine in 10 respondents – 89 per cent – agreed or strongly agreed that questions should be in their usual format.

"Respondents raised concerns that, if changes were made to the way exam papers were presented or to the way the exams were conducted, students would not have the time or support needed to adjust to the different approach. They would therefore be disadvantaged by any changes," an Ofqual analysis of the consultation said.

2. There will be no advance information on topics

"We also proposed that students should not be given advance information about the topics that would be included in the exam papers," Ofqual said.

It added that students' views were "mixed with regard to this proposal", with private candidates more supportive of the proposed approach than other students.

Overall, 58 per cent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that students should not be given advance notice about the content of the papers.

3. The majority wanted an autumn series

The consultation showed clear support for an autumn exam series. In total, 91 per cent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that students who received a teacher-assessed GCSE grade this summer should be able to sit exams in autumn, and 92 per cent supported this for A-level students, with 76 per cent in support of this for AS levels.

Views were more mixed regarding whether other students should be able to sit exams, although overall 60 per cent of respondents said GCSE exams should be open to any student. 

The regulator said: "We have decided that entry to the autumn 2021 exam series should be restricted to students who receive a teacher-assessed grade in summer 2021 and to students who, in the opinion of the exam board, would have entered summer 2021 exams had they not been cancelled.

"We will expect the exam boards to give the benefit of any doubt to private candidates, to address concerns that they might not be able to provide evidence of their intention to take exams in the summer had they taken place."

4. Grades will only be based on exam performance

With the exception of art and design, grades will be based on exam performance alone. Overall, 69 per cent of respondents agreed that for all subjects apart from art and design, assessment should only be exam-based.

"While we recognise the importance of the usual non-exam assessments in many subjects, and especially those with a performance element such as dance and drama, we believe the difficulties of completing such assessments in the autumn would outweigh the benefits. We have therefore decided that grades should be based on students’ exam performance only," Ofqual said.

5. There could be further exams in January 2022

In the consultation, Ofqual sought views on whether GCSE English and maths exams should be held slightly later than usual. There was little support for a change, and these exams will go ahead in November or December.

"In light of concerns about students’ readiness to take GCSE English language and maths exams in the autumn, and concerns about schools’ and colleges’ ability to manage large exam entries if public health safeguards remain in place, we will also make provision for the exam boards to offer exams in these subjects in January 2022 if they wish," the regulator said.

"We made the same provision for the current academic year, although the exam boards decided, having sought feedback from schools and colleges, not to offer exams at that time."

6. Students will be able to keep the higher of their two grades

Ofqual had proposed that a student whose autumn 2021 grade was higher than their teacher-assessed grade should be able to ask their exam board to issue a replacement certificate showing the higher of the grades. 

Ofqual said there was strong support for this proposal, with 86 per cent agreeing or strongly agreeing. Exam boards will be required to issue certificates when students request this. 

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author bio

Catherine Lough

Catherine Lough is a reporter at Tes.

Find me on Twitter @CathImogenLough

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