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A level results day: your questions answered

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: A Level, Ofqual, Universities

This week students up and down the country will be getting results for their A and AS levels, and a range of other technical qualifications. Here we answer some of your key questions.

How can students pick up their results?

Schools and colleges are able to tell students their AS and A level results any time after 8am on Thursday 13 August. The exact arrangements for telling students their results are up to individual schools and colleges. Whilst results days may feel different this year, schools and colleges can still welcome students in to collect their results if they wish, as long as they observe guidance on protective measures.

Schools and colleges will also be able to confirm the timing and arrangements for collecting results for other qualifications.

How have students’ grades been calculated this year? 

This year, exams were cancelled to prevent the spread of coronavirus and keep schools, colleges and wider communities safe.

For A and AS levels, Ofqual, the independent exams watchdog, developed a method for calculating grades which considers how well students were expected to do if exams had gone ahead. This involved asking schools and colleges to submit the grade they thought each student would have achieved in each subject if exams had gone ahead, taking into account things like coursework, class performance, mock exams and homework. They were also asked to say how their likely performance compared to others in their class.

These grades submitted by teachers have now been standardised – a process that ensures grades are fair and consistent across the country and in comparison to previous years. Standardisation draws on multiple evidence sources, including the previous performance of the year’s students and the historic performance at individual schools and colleges, to determine whether the grades submitted by schools and colleges are more severe or generous than expected.

As a result of standardisation, many grades submitted by schools and colleges have been adjusted, which means that the grades students ultimately receive may be different from the grades submitted by schools and colleges.

Awarding organisations have put in place similar arrangements for other qualifications with results being released this week, such as several BTECs and Cambridge Technicals.

Are the grades comparable to other years? 

Ofqual and awarding organisations have standardised grades to ensure they are consistent and fair. This means adjusting the grades submitted by schools and colleges to keep the final results similar to previous years, when students sat national exams.

If grades were not standardised, Ofqual has confirmed that A level results would have shot up at a national level this year, which would undermine their value because universities, colleges and employers would be far less likely to trust them.

This means the results pupils receive this year will be comparable to other years and should hold the same weight in the eyes of universities, colleges and employers.

Why are some grades different to what teachers submitted? 

The circumstances this year meant that schools and colleges did not have the opportunity to develop a common approach to grading in advance, so it is likely that some centres will be more generous in their judging, and others more severe – standardising grades ensures results are consistent and fair across the country.

What is the ‘triple lock’ and how does it work?

The new ‘triple lock’ process will give young people added security as they receive their grades this year.

Students could accept their calculated grade, appeal to receive a valid mock result, or sit autumn exams to ensure the achievements of young people are recognised.

Ofqual has been asked to determine how and when valid mock results can be used to calculate grades.

All outcomes will hold the same value for universities, colleges and employers, building on the significant number of students who will still progress as a result of their calculated grades. Similar arrangements will apply to vocational and technical qualifications if necessary.

Why was it introduced now?

We are determined that no student should be disadvantaged as a result of the decision to cancel exams this year. It will ensure all students will be able to feel their grades are a fair representation of their attainment.

How will exams this autumn work?  

Students will have the opportunity to take AS and A levels, as well as GCSEs in all subjects, with A levels taking place in October and GCSEs in November and pupils will then be able to keep the higher of the two grades they have been given either from the autumn series or their previous grade. These autumn exams, barring art and design, will be based on exam performance alone, rather than coursework. These exams will still be subject to reviews and appeal in the normal way. Entry for the autumn series will be limited to students who had entered for the summer exams (or who made a compelling case to the exam board about their intention to have entered for the summer series).

How will clearing work if students are retaking exams or waiting for the result of an appeal? How do they take up a university place?

We want our universities, colleges, apprenticeship providers and employers to make sure all young people can progress by considering all aspects of students’ applications. That is not because their grades will be any less valid than in previous years but because we know there will be a small number of students who were unable to receive grades or who think they would have done better had they sat exams.

Awarding organisations will do their best to process any appeals as quickly as possible and we have encouraged universities to hold places open until 7 September where the place is dependent on a student’s grade and that grade is subject to an appeal. Some universities may also be able to accept students who take autumn exams onto courses starting in January.

In a letter to all Vice Chancellors, Universities Minister Michelle Donelan has asked institutions to hold places for students appealing their grades until they receive the outcome of the appeal, where possible. The Minister has also said universities should take into account a range of evidence when admitting students to courses.

Minister Donelan has made clear that the exam boards are committed to doing all that is possible to resolve appeals for affected candidates by 7 September – the deadline for applicants to meet academic offer conditions.

UCAS has developed a new, personalised Clearing system for students this summer. This includes Clearing Plus, an additional new service that aims to match students to courses based on interest and availability. It looks at the course a student originally applied for and analyses what other students with similar aspirations in previous years went on to study through Clearing. Applicants can use Clearing Plus if they are unplaced, or if they wish to change their firm choice. They will be sent a personalised set of courses that they could take with the grades they have achieved.

Full information on the Clearing Plus service can be found here:

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