Students this year faced the unprecedented situation that A Level, AS level and GCSE had been cancelled because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
An announcement had been made as the first coronavirus restrictions were outlined by the Government in mid-March.
The Government said: “From Friday 20 March, all educational settings were closed to everyone except the children of critical workers and vulnerable children.
“The coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak is expected to continue having a significant impact on the education system, and the country, for months to come.
“Therefore, exams and assessments have been cancelled to give pupils, parents, and teachers certainty, and enable schools and colleges to focus on supporting vulnerable children and the children of critical workers.”
Exams would normally take place in May and June.
Here’s what’s happening instead and how it works.
What is happening instead?
Exam boards will not be issuing papers for this summer’s GCSE, AS and A Levels so there will not be the opportunity to sit them at any centre.
Teacher assessments will instead be put forward to exam boards so they can calculate grades this year. Mock exams will also be taken into acount.
It will be reassuring for anxious students to know research suggests that teacher assessments are deemed to be as reliable as test scores.
The Government said: “Students who were due to sit A Level, AS level or GCSE exams this summer will receive a calculated grade.
“The calculated grade process will take into account a range of evidence including, for example, non-exam assessment and mock results.
“To make sure that grades are fair between schools and colleges, exam boards will put all centre assessment grades through a process of standardisation using a model developed with Ofqual, the independent qualifications regulator.
“Ofqual is developing a fair and robust process that takes into account a broad range of evidence, including assessments by schools and colleges of the grades that students would have been likely to obtain if exams went ahead and their prior attainment.
“Ofqual’s overriding aim is to make sure arrangements this summer are as fair as possible for all students.”
What if my coursework wasn’t finished when we had to close?
Schools and colleges don’t need to set additional mock exams or homework tasks for the purposes of determining a centre assessment grade.
And no student should be disadvantaged if they are unable to complete any work set after schools and colleges were closed.
It means they don’t have to worry about any unfinished non-exam assessment work for the purposes of grading.
Where additional work has been completed after schools and colleges were closed on March 20, Ofqual is advising head teachers and principals to be cautious if that evidence suggests a change in performance. It says: “In many cases this is likely to reflect the circumstances and context in which the work is done.”
What about my university offer?
All the calculated grades awarded this summer will be formal grades, with the same status as those given in any other year.
They will be accepted by all institutions for further and higher education.
University representatives have already confirmed that they will do all they can to support students and ensure they can go on to higher education.
Anyone with an unconditional offer doesn’t have to worry at all as they have been accepted to university with no condition on what grades they need.
When do these centre assessment grades need to be sent in?
Exam board AQA says schools and colleges will need to provide the following information to their exam board:
- A ‘centre assessment grade’ for each student
- A rank order of students within each grade
AQA says the centre assessment grade is “the teacher’s professional judgment of the most likely grade a student would have achieved if exams had gone ahead.”
It will be based on a range of evidence including mock exams, non-exam assessment, homework assignments and any other record of student performance over the course of study.
For tiered subjects, the centre assessment grade should reflect each student’s tier of entry. For example: 9 to 3 for higher tier and 5 to 1, or U, for foundation tier.
AQA says schools also have to then create a rank order of all students within each grade, for every subject – for instance, for all students at Grade 5 in GCSE Maths or at Grade B in A Level Biology.
Subject teachers and heads have to sign off the centre assessment grades and rank order before they are sent off to the exam board.
AQA states: “The window for submitting grades and rank orders is Monday 1 June to Friday 12 June.”
How are the results standardised?
AQA explained that to make the process fair, exam board officials will standardise the centre assessment grades across all schools and colleges.
By using things such as previous performance at the school or college and national level grade distributions, it will make sure final grades are aligned across all centres, and of equal value to previous years.
The aim is to make sure students aren’t disadvantaged if some schools are more generous than others when sending in assessments.
It adds: “Based on this, individual grades may be adjusted upwards or downwards. This means that the final grade awarded to a student could be different from the one their school or college sends to us.”
What if I don’t agree with my grade?
Ofqual carried out a consultation with representatives of schools, colleges, students and teachers before deciding the final details of the system it would use. It published its decisions towards the end of May.
But it’s worth noting that any predicted grades put on university applications are not being used in the process.
The Government has advised students that their final standardised result given by exam boards for any subject in 2020 may be different from the predicted grade used for university applications and from the ‘centre assessment grade’ put forward to the boards by schools and colleges.
But there are things you can do if you’re not happy with the grade you’re given.
The Government states: “If an A level, AS level or GCSE student does not believe the correct process has been followed in their case, they will have access to a right of appeal on that basis.
“In addition, if a student does not feel their grade reflects their performance, they will have the opportunity to take an exam in the autumn.
“Students will also have the option to take their exams in summer 2021, in line with usual practice.”
Any student intending to go to higher education but deciding to take autumn exams in an attempt to improve their results should speak to their university after getting their calculated grade.
Will everyone get a grade – what about external students?
External students are those who have not been taught at a school or college but have instead been home educated, following distance-learning programmes or studying independently.
Usually, they would still arrange to go along to an examination sitting at a local school or college.
But with exam boards this year relying on assessments by schools and colleges, it will be different this year for those who haven’t attended.
The Government says not all external candidates will get a calculated grade this summer.
This is because some won’t be able to provide all the evidence for their exam centre to include them in centre assessment grades and rankings.
Students in this position will need to sit exams to get their grades, either in the autumn or in summer 2021.