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What you need to know about grades in 2021

GCSE, AS and A level exams will not be going ahead as planned this summer. 

Instead, students will receive grades determined by teachers, and will only be assessed on what they have been taught, not what they may have missed. Here is what this means for you and your families. 

What has been announced?

This year, we will ask those who know students best – their teachers – to assess them so they can progress to the next stages of their education or careers and not be disadvantaged by the disruption of the last year. 

Why are teachers determining grades?

We want to ensure all young people can have the confidence that, despite exams not going ahead, they will still receive a grade that reflects their ability. Fairness is at the heart of the system designed to replace exams. 

We held a consultation with the exam's regulator, Ofqual, to ask what the public thought about our proposals. We received over 100,000 replies with more than three quarters coming from parents/carers and students. There was broad support for the proposals. 

What are you doing to ensure that grades awarded are as fair as possible?

We have a robust process in place which will support teachers in determining gradesExam boards issued detailed guidance, grade descriptors and example answers to support teachers in making judgements based on evidence of students’ work. The grade descriptors will describe expected performance which is broadly comparable to performance standards from previous years, so teachers and students are clear what is expected for each grade. Combined with a rigorous quality assurance process, both within centres and by exam boards this system will ensure grades reflect students’ performance 

GCSEs, AS and A levels

How are grades being determined?

Grades will be based on what students have been taught, not what they’ve missed. 

Teachers are using a range of evidence, which could include mock exams, coursework and other work completed as part of a student’s course, such as essays or in-class tests.  

Additionally, exam boards provided optional sets of questions for teachers to use to help them gather evidence. Teachers can select groups of questions that reflect what they have taught. 

Exam boards also published guidance for teachers on how grades should be determined which included advice on collecting and evaluating evidence of student work and using the grade descriptors and example answers to support them in their grading decisions. 

What are the timings for this?

Teachers will submit their grades to exam boards by Friday 18 June 2021 Exam boards will then check the evidence on which grades are based, for a range of students/subjects in a sample of centres.  

Results days for GCSE, AS, and A level and some vocational qualifications will then be issued on: 

  • A Level/Level 3 Results Day -10 August 
  •  GCSE/Level 2 Results Day - 12 August 

When will students know what evidence is going to be used for their teacher assessed grade and if they will have an exam? 

Before grades are submitted, students will be told what evidence is being used to assess them. Students can see this evidence and tell their teachers about any mitigating circumstances they think might affect their grade. Students will not be informed of their final grade at this stage 

You can also find information about the assessment process on exam board websites and by using Ofqual’online tool, which shows what approach will be taken for individual qualifications. Students can search for their specific qualification to see how it will be assessed. 

Ofqual have also created a Student Guide, which explains the whole assessment process. 

What if a student believes their grade is wrong?

Students will have multiple chances to show what they know and can do this year. They will be able to see the evidence teachers plan to submit for them and can notify their teacher of any errors with the evidence or other issues (such as mitigating circumstances that should be taken into account) at this stage 

Teachers will also be supported in making judgements and these judgements will be checked through rigorous system of quality assurance. Headteachers will submit a personal declaration that they believe grades are accurate, and exam boards will also check all centres’ processes, as well as checking grades in random and more targeted checksStudents should therefore have confidence in their grades this year.  

However, appeals are there as a safety net in exceptional cases, for example in rare instance that there is an error 

If they believe their grade is wrong, students can ask their centre to check for errors. If the student still believes their grade is wrong, their centre can then submit an appeal to the exam board on their behalf. The exam board can confirm whether the grade is reasonable based on the evidence. If not, they will determine the alternative grade. 

An exam board will only revise a student’s grade where the evidence cannot reasonably support that grade, rather than as a result of marginal differences of opinion. Students should be aware that grades can go up or down as the result of an appeal. 

What about private candidates?

Private candidates should work with a centre to be assessed on a range of evidence, as other candidates will be. The range of evidence could include the use of board-provided assessment materials or evidence created with another established education provider, and JCQ have issued guidance to support centres assessing private candidates. Private candidates’ assessment is included in quality assurance too.  

There is also a DfE grant and a list of centres produced by JCQ so private candidates can access an exam centre at a similar cost to a normal year. 

Why are we having an autumn series and what will it look like? 

We want to provide students with as many opportunities to progress as possible and this includes providing autumn exams for pupils who wish to use such an opportunity to improve their teacher assessed grade.  

The exams will be in the format which students are familiar with, with no adaptations, and grades will be based solely on the performance in the exam. Students will be able to sit GCSEs and A Levels in all subjects, and their final grade will be the highest grade between summer and autumn if the student sat both.  

Ofqual have required that AS maths, further maths, biology, chemistry and physics be available, and exam boards will soon decide which other AS levels will be available in the autumn. 

Vocational and technical qualifications and other general qualifications

What’s happening for a vocational and technical qualifications, like BTECs?

Students studying vocational and technical qualifications (VTQs) that are similar to, and taken alongside, or instead of, GCSEs and A levels will also receive grades assessed by teachers rather than sitting exams. The arrangements will be similar to those for GCSEs and A levels. This will be the case, for example, for many BTECs, Cambridge Nationals and Technicals, Tech Levels, Technical Awards and Technical Certificates. These arrangements will also apply to T Level core assessments. 

What about students who are taking a vocational and technical qualification where occupational competency needs to be assessed? 

If you are taking a VTQ which requires occupational competency to be assessed, your exams and assessments will continue where they can be delivered in line with public health measures, including remotely. This is because you need to demonstrate a necessary professional standard in an occupation. 

What about students taking Functional Skills?

Exams and assessments for Functional Skills will continue where they can be delivered in line with public health measures, including remotely. If you can’t access the assessments, you will get your result through teacher assessed grades. 

What about students taking the International Baccalaureate or Pre-U?

You won’t have exams. Your result will be issued based on teacher assessment, in a similar way to GCSEs and A levels. 

When will students taking VTQs get their results?

If you are taking your qualification in order to get into college or university, your result will be issued in the week of Monday 9 August, in line with A levels and GCSEs. 

Results for other VTQs will be issued throughout the year as usual. 

What if a student thinks their grade is wrong?

If you believe your grade is wrong, you will be able to appeal. Awarding organisations have their own appeals processes, but if you are awarded your qualification through teacher assessment, you will have access to a right of appeal on the same basis as those set out for GCSEs, AS and A levels. 

Will students be able to take an exam in the autumn if they are not happy?

Depending on which VTQ you are taking, there may already be an opportunity in the autumn or winter to take an assessment. Check with your school or college in the first instance. 

Ofqual consulted on the arrangements for Autumn Resits in April and will be publishing their response shortly. 

What about private candidates?

Private candidates for VTQs will be assessed in a similar way to other students, by working with a centre. Awarding organisations will provide guidance to help exam centres assess these candidates. 

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