GCSEs and A levels 2020: What you need to know

Ofqual has published further details about how GCSE and A-level grades will be awarded this summer - here's everything you need to know about what will happen next.

Catherine Lough

exam hall

Ofqual has published guidance this morning about how grades will be awarded for this summer's GCSEs and A levels, following their cancellation two weeks ago. 

Here, we answer your queries about how the grading process will work.

What will exam grades be based on?

GCSE and A-level grades this year will be based on two pieces of information submitted by schools and colleges for each student. Firstly, schools will submit the grade they think the pupils would have achieved had the exams gone ahead.

Secondly, schools must submit a rank order of pupils for each grade for every subject. This will help with the moderation process and ensure schools are not being either too generous or severe in the awarding of a particular grade.

For example, if a school were to award a generous proportion of grade 7s in maths – a legacy grade A at GCSE – Ofqual could use the school's rank order of the "most secure" to "least secure" grade 7 candidates, with the "least secure" likely to have their grade moderated to a grade 6.


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Should teachers primarily base their judgement on non-exam assessment?

Not entirely. Teachers should take non-exam assessment into account as part of their holistic judgement of what level pupils would have achieved, but should "bear in mind that many students achieve a higher grade" in non-examined work than they would in written papers. 

"You should balance it with your judgement about their likely performance in the written paper(s), where appropriate," Ofqual's guidance says.

Where pupils decide to enter a subsequent exam, teachers should keep their non-exam assessed work.

When do schools need to submit this data by?

Schools do not need to submit this data to boards before 29 May.

Will teacher-assessed grades be based mainly on mock exams?

No. Schools and colleges should submit a holistic assessment of the pupil's likely grade if exams had gone ahead, based on the results of any class or homework assignments and mock exams, as well as any other records of their performance over the course of study.

Performances in subjects such as drama, music and PE will also be used as a basis for assessments, as well as existing AS grades in the subject for A-level pupils and previous grades for pupils re-sitting qualifications. 

And the tier of entry will also be used for tiered subjects as part of the judgement. 

Will pupils be able to see their grade?

No. Schools should not share grades submitted to exam boards with pupils, and nor should they share their rank order with them.

How will grades be standardised across the country?

Schools and colleges are working under exceptional circumstances and there will be no opportunity to moderate grades before they are submitted.

Ofqual will conduct its own moderating process of "statistical standardisation" and is still working out how this will be done. It will consult on the principles of this in the coming weeks. 

But the data used in standardising will look at how pupils usually perform at each school and college given their ability as reflected in prior attainment at key stage 2 for GCSE, or at GCSE for A level – the "value added" of each centre.

Ofqual will also take students' prior attainment into account at key stage 2 or GCSE for each school, as well as what it would expect the national distribution of grades to look like.

This will be used by exam boards to adjust the grades of schools and colleges up or down to fine tune any generosity or severity in grading.

So will a pupil's prior attainment at key stage 2 or GCSE be used to adjust their grade?

No. Where adjustments are made to grading based on prior attainment, this will be done at a national, not an individual level. Students' individual grades will not be determined by how they did in their key stage 2 Sats or GCSEs. 

The standardising process will also not change the rank order of pupils in any school or college, and it will not assume that the distribution of grades in each school and college ought to be the same – it will be sensitive to past evidence.

Will pupils in Year 10 be graded this year?

It's unlikely. Ofqual has proposed that pupils taking GCSEs early in Year 10 should not receive a grade for 2020, as "their progression will not be hindered if they do not receive a grade" this year. It will consult on this proposal soon and a decision will be made before any data needs to be submitted.

Should schools be setting pupils additional work?

No. There is no requirement for schools to set pupils additional work to make judgements, and Ofqual has cautioned heads that where additional work has been completed after schools were closed, any change in performance should not be used to modify teacher assessments.

Essentially, no pupil should be disadvantaged by the exceptional circumstances of producing work under lockdown after school closures – which may well not reflect their normal level of performance. 

"In many cases [a change in performance] is likely to reflect the circumstances and context in which the work is done," Ofqual's statement says. 

What about home-schooled or private candidates?

For "private candidates" – which includes home-schooled pupils, adult learners, those who are studying qualifications for their own personal challenge and enjoyment, and students retaking an A level – they will have already been taking GCSEs or A levels through a school or college.

However, the amount of information schools and colleges have on private candidates will vary. Where a headteacher has taken responsibility for an external candidate, they will need to decide whether they can confidently submit a grade for that student – if they can, they can include them in their rank order.

Where headteachers do not have enough information on the candidate, they may need to take exams in the autumn. However, Ofqual said there may be another option for external candidates needing a particular grade to progress on to the next stage of their education, and that it will be releasing further information about this shortly.

How will appeals be managed?

Schools and colleges should be able to appeal on behalf of a student or cohort within a college, if it appears there has been a mistake in their assigned grade. Ofqual said it still needs to consult on this.

However, Ofqual said that schools "should expect the possible grounds of appeals to be relatively narrow and based on application of the process. In submitting data to exam boards, centres should make sure that it is correct.”

What other options are there for students unhappy with their grade?

Since the announcement that this summer's exams would be cancelled, Ofqual has said that pupils unhappy with their "calculated" grade will be able to sit exams in the following academic year this autumn. 

Ofqual is looking into the timetabling of autumn exams. If pupils sit an exam in the autumn, they will be able to keep both their teacher assessed and exam grade, and use the higher of the two grades. 

When will results be published?

GCSE and A-level results will not be released any later than they normally would be in August, and may even go out earlier if possible. 

What about vocational qualifications?

Ofqual is considering how teacher assessments could be used in some vocational qualifications. Where the qualifications involves a professional competency, the grade might need to be delayed in the interests of public safety. 

Will pupils who want to sit exams in the autumn need to delay their university place?

In most cases, yes, as it will not be possible to run a full exams season once schools reopen and have pupils receive A-level results for the start of the academic year at university. However, there may be some cases, where courses begin in January, for A-level candidates to progress "in year". Where lectures or modules have been recorded, it also might be possible for a candidate to sit an A level in the autumn and start a university course in January, using videoed lectures and seminars to catch up.

Will exceptional circumstances and disabilities be taken into account?

Yes and no. If disabled pupils had reasonable adjustments agreed with exam boards, such as the use of a scribe, this should be taken into account in the judgement of their likely performance. But special consideration relating to pupils suffering traumatic circumstances such as a bereavement will not apply this year. 

Judgements should reflect how students would have performed "under ordinary circumstances”.

“Where illness or other personal circumstances might have affected performance in mock exams, centres should bear that in mind when making their judgements.”

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author bio

Catherine Lough

Catherine Lough is a reporter at Tes.

Find me on Twitter @CathImogenLough

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