Following consultation on the issue in early 2021, the Education Secretary has today announced his plans to award grades to students this summer. Jennifer Wright, one of our education law specialists, has set out below ten key things that you need to know about the new arrangements.

What will the assessment of this summer’s grades be based on?

The Education Secretary has confirmed that students who were due to sit GCSE, A level and some vocational qualifications and technical qualifications (VTQs) this summer will instead receive grades awarded and determined by their teachers.

Teachers will be able to draw on “a range of evidence” when determining grades, including mock exams, coursework, or other work completed as part of a pupil’s course, such as essays or in-class tests. They will also be able to use “optional” assessment questions provided by exam boards, which will be released for all subjects, and which will not have to be sat in exam conditions.

To support teachers in making their judgements, exam boards will be required to provide detailed guidance before the end of the spring term.

The government have also stressed that students will only be assessed on what they have been taught, in recognition of the differing impact the Covid-19 pandemic has had on different students/schools/colleges in different areas. Teachers are encouraged to use a consistent evidence base for all of their students in a subject, wherever possible, to support consistent judgements.

Crucially, no algorithm will be used in an attempt to standardise grades across schools/colleges.

What if there are mitigating circumstances or I have a disability which has affected the standard of my recent work?

In his letter to OFQUAL the Education Secretary has reminded schools that he expects teachers “to make reasonable adjustments for disabled students under the Equality Act, in relation to work set where the need for such adjustments has been identified.”

Where this has not been possible in relation to evidence already collected, or where a student is unwell at the time of a forthcoming assessment, he has explained that teachers should “substitute this evidence where possible, but if necessary, to either take account of the impact of the absence of the reasonable adjustment in the judgement they make, or disregard that evidence so as not to prejudice the overall judgement.”

The normal range of reasonable adjustments should be made available for disabled students. 

The Education Secretary has also said he expects schools/colleges “to be required by the exam boards to allow students to see the evidence on which their grade is to be determined before grades are submitted, so that students have the opportunity to raise mitigating circumstances and identify errors in advance.”

Parents may wish to plan ahead now and speak to their child’s school in the coming weeks to check the school is fully aware of:

  • Their child’s special educational needs (SEN) and/or any other relevant diagnoses which affect their educational progress
  • Any reasonable adjustments that would have been made if they were able to sit the exams in person this year in light of any SEN and/or medical or other needs that they have
  • Any mitigating circumstances during their recent schooling, including long periods of absence from school for any issue (including family bereavements, mental health difficulties, illness, medical procedures etc.)

I am a private candidate. What will my grades be based on?

Private candidates are those who enter into an exam series without being enrolled in a school or college. This could be for example because they are home schooled.

The government’s position is that “a summer exam series for private candidates would not be viable”. Instead, they have confirmed that there will be “a clear and accessible route for private candidates to work with a centre to receive a grade this year, at the same time as other candidates”. Exam boards and Ofqual will provide centres with clear guidance on the evidence they can use to assess a private candidate, taking into account private candidates’ different circumstances. The government have suggested this could be an adapted range of evidence, which could include taking the exam board provided assessment materials in a suitable form.

As private candidates will need a willing centre, a list of available centres will be published shortly. The government have said they are working with the sector to ensure there are sufficient centres available and at a similar cost to a normal year.

I am taking vocational and technical qualifications. How will my grades be determined this year?

The government has acknowledged that the diverse nature of vocational and technical qualifications (‘VTQs’) mean that one approach cannot be taken towards them all. Plans for VTQs will therefore depend on the specific type of qualification.

  • For VTQs that are most similar to GCSEs, AS and A levels (that are used for progression to further or higher education e.g. many BTECs and Cambridge Nationals/Technicals), exams will not go ahead this summer. Results will be awarded using similar arrangements to GCSEs and AS or A levels.
  • For VTQs for occupational courses (which lead directly to employment), where exams or assessments are critical to demonstrate occupational/professional competence, these will continue to take place in line with public health measures
  • Smaller VTQs  (such as Functional Skills qualifications or ESOL), will continue in line with public health measures, with alternative arrangements made for those who cannot access them.

When will the teacher assessed grades be submitted?

Teachers will have up until June 18 to submit their students’ grades, to allow as much teaching time as possible before assessments are made. The consultation confirmed that teachers would once again not be in a position to tell students’ their final grades before results day.

Will there be any checks in the system?

In general terms, schools, colleges and other educational settings will conduct multiple checks – such as checking consistency of judgements across teachers and that the correct processes were followed - to ensure as much fairness as possible.

Specifically, the grading process will be subject to three stages of external quality assurance:

  1. All schools/colleges will send exam boards their internal quality assurance processes, which will be checked.
  2. Exam boards will then conduct sample, random checks of evidence over June/July from different schools/colleges.
  3. Risk-based checks, based on criteria such as changes to entry patterns or new schools/colleges, will also take place.

When will results be announced?

A-level students will receive their results on 10 August, whilst GCSE students will receive theirs on 12 August. Results for relevant VTQs that are linked to progression to Further or Higher Education should also be issued to students on or before these dates.

Results days for GCSE, A level and some vocational qualifications was moved forward from 23 August to the week of 9 August specifically to offer additional time for appeals to be completed, so far as possible, in early September.

This is in particular to offer certainty where a grade change may affect a student’s autumn university placement.

What can I do if I’m unhappy with the teacher-assessed grades awarded to me?

An appeal system will be operating. The government have confirmed that “every student who believes their grade does not reflect their performance or has not been properly determined, should have a clear route to appeal this year”.

As with last year’s processes, however, if a student believes their grade is wrong they will in the first instance need to ask their centre (school/college) to check for errors and make sure they followed their own process correctly.

If a student still believes their grade is wrong following that review, then the centre will submit an appeal to the exam board on their behalf. The exam board will need to review both the process the centre has followed and review the evidence on which their grade was determined to confirm whether the grade submitted by the centre was a reasonable exercise of academic judgement. If an exam board finds the evidence cannot support the grade, they should determine the alternative grade and inform the centre.

What if I still disagree with the final result issued by the exam board after I have appealed?

If a student still disagrees with the final result issued by the exam board after the appeal, and believes the process has not been followed correctly, they can apply to Ofqual's Exams Procedures Review Service which will review the process used by the exam board.

It is not yet clear how appeals will be funded, but it is not expected that students or schools/colleges will have to pay for appeals. The consultation said that exam boards would decide whether to charge a separate fee for appeals made to them, and further information is awaited on this.

Will I have an opportunity to sit exams at a later date instead of appealing?

The government has directed Ofqual to put in place a full autumn exam series of GCSE, AS and A level examinations. This will give students a chance to sit their exams in order to improve on any teacher assessed grades that they may be disappointed with.

Our education solicitors can advise parents, schools, or colleges on any aspect of the exam or appeals process. Contact us today to find out more.

 If you would like to  read more about this topic visit the relevant government pages here and here.