GCSEs & A Levels 2021: What We Know So Far

A huge question mark hangs over this year’s GCSEs and A Levels. At the start of January, education secretary Gavin Williamson confirmed that public exams will not go ahead this summer as a result of the pandemic. Instead, students will receive teacher-assessed grades.

But what does this mean in practice? And when will more information be available for parents?

What have we been told so far?

  • Normal GCSE and A Level assessments will not go ahead this year. Instead, all students will be awarded grades by their school teachers. Gavin Williamson told the House of Commons last month that details still need to be ‘fine tuned’ with Ofqual, the exam watchdog. However, the government wishes to use ‘a form of teacher-assessed grades, with training and support provided, to ensure these are awarded fairly and consistently across the country’.
  • Williamson has indicated that algorithms will not be used in 2021 to moderate grades after last year’s controversy. In summer 2020, the government was forced to abandon Ofqual’s algorithm, after nearly 40% of A Level marks were downgraded. The algorithm took into account teachers’ predictions as well as a school’s past performance. Many schools felt they had been treated unfairly, that that the system favoured the privately educated.
  • Last month, Ofqual and the Department for Education launched a joint consultation about how students should be graded and assessed. The consultation was open for responses until 29 January and Ofqual is now considering its options. A decision is due to be published very soon.

What options are being considered for GCSEs and A Levels?

  • In its January consultation, Ofqual considered alternatives to traditional exams and asked for feedback from students, teachers, parents and other stakeholders such as exams officers and exam boards.
  • The watchdog proposed that in place of summer exams students are graded based on their teacher’s assessment of the standard at which they are performing. Students would be assessed by their teachers from May to early June, and teachers would submit grades to the exam boards by mid-June.
  • Ofqual proposed that all students who are disappointed by their grades should be able appeal. While pupils will not be told the grade their teacher has submitted to the exam boards on their behalf, once results have been issued a student who believes their teacher has made an error should be able to appeal to their school or college on that basis, Ofqual said.
  • The watchdog added that pupils who are not studying within a school or college, for example because they are home educated, must be able to be issued with a grade as well. 

How will teachers decide grade to award?

  • Nothing is set in stone yet around GCSEs and A levels. However, the exam watchdog proposed that teachers should only take ‘evidence-based decisions’ about the grade they recommend their students should receive. This could include using exam board papers to assess their pupils or using tests written by teachers themselves.
  • Ofqual says that teachers should use a variety of methods to assess students and to gather evidence of the standard at which their students are performing. The exam boards are due to provide guidance on how they could do this.
  • The watchdog added that teachers should be asked to decide the grade a student might have achieved had the pandemic not occurred. That would put them in an ‘impossible position’, as they would be required to imagine a situation that had not happened.

A huge amount remains unclear about GCSEs and A Levels in 2021. However, our tutors are here to help students navigate this tumultuous year. Please click here for a free consultation.