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GCSE and A-Level exams summer 2020

22nd April 2020

GCSE and A-Level exams summer 2020

This article discusses the government’s guidance on this year’s GCSE and A-levels (“the Guidance”)[1] exams. Teachers are having to undertake the complex task of predicting their students’ final grades.

Schools and colleges are now being asked to provide no earlier than 29 May 2020:

  1. a centre assessment grade for every student in each of their subjects: that is, the grade they would be most likely to have achieved if they had sat their exams and completed any non-exam assessment;
  2. the rank order of students within each grade for each subject – for example, for all those students with a centre assessment grade of 5 in GCSE maths, a rank order where 1 is the most secure/highest attaining student, and so on; and
  3. a declaration from the Head of Centre making the submission.

What information should teachers take into account?

Schools and colleges are expected to provide a rank order of students within each grade because the Guidance notes that the statistical standardisation process will need more granular information than the grade alone.

To this end schools and colleges have been given guidance on the grading and rank ordering process to help staff in different schools and colleges take a common approach to assessing their students.

Such information can also be found on Ofqual’s website which notes that the marks provided should be “fair, objective and carefully considered judgements and should take into account the full range of available evidence.

That evidence ought to include classwork, mock exam results and non-exam-based assessments. Schools can ask for additional work post 20 March 2020 but are not obliged to do so.

It is unclear to what extent schools ought to consider the input of work done via private tutors which many students may have used in their final year.

How can teachers accurately rank students?

This may be particularly problematic in both larger schools and in subjects where there are very few students. Nevertheless, teachers are expected to rank students on the basis that they “are highly experienced at making assessment decisions and evidence shows they can rank order their students with a high degree of accuracy”- despite research suggesting otherwise when it comes to certain groups-for which, see below.

The Guidance suggests that in large schools and colleges, subject teachers within a department should discuss the rank order and come to a shared view of the standard being applied, using examples of student work.

Schools and colleges ought to be alive to the fact that they will need to be able to demonstrate clearly what method they have used, both for exam boards and for potential appeals from students.

It is not clear to what extent standardisation and ranking will be possible within independent exam centres which may often have much less interaction with a student than schools and colleges.

Will it be possible to know the grades provided by schools/institutions in advance?

No, the Guidance makes it clear that schools will not provide the grades that they are submitting to the exam board(s) in advance.

This is to protect the integrity of the teachers’ judgements, and to ensure school staff do not come under pressure to submit a grade that is not supported by the evidence.  Once centre assessment grades have been submitted to exam boards, the process to produce the final grades will start.  At that stage, further information will be given to teachers, students, parents and carers.

Exam boards will be alert to schools/institutions with a sudden uplift in grades as compared to previous years, which may well be legitimately explained by a particularly strong cohort. Equally, schools with strong academic reputations are likely to benefit from past achievements and may not be scrutinised to the same degree.

Relevant dates

Exam boards will provide detailed instructions to schools and colleges on when and how to submit centre assessment grades. The deadline will not be earlier than 29 May 2020 and centres will have a window of at least two weeks in which to submit the data.

Can schools set new work or rely on new work submitted since schools and colleges closed on 20 March 2020?

The Guidance makes it clear that there is no requirement 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 were closed.

Where additional work has been completed after schools and colleges were closed on 20 March, the Guidance says Heads of Centre should exercise caution where that evidence suggests a change in performance.

This may present some difficulty as post-Easter  is often a time when some students will demonstrate a significant improvement in their attainment. However, if a marked improvement is shown post 20 March 2020, there may be issues around determining to what extent this is the students’ work and less weight is likely to be attached to such work which may lead to some unfair outcomes. For example, boys are more likely than girls to see an improvement in their overall grades as compared to their predicted grades.

What about taking exams in the autumn?

One can do so and it does not have to be in all subjects- students can choose which subjects they wish to sit.

Exam results, if taken in the autumn, will be provided around Christmas 2020, and universities may delay start dates to January 2021 for some courses, or design courses to allow students to start in January 2021 without being significantly disadvantaged.

If students take an exam this autumn, which will stand – the exam or centre assessment grade?

Students who feel that their grades from the summer do not reflect their ability will have the opportunity to take their exams in the autumn of 2020 or in summer 2021. It is unclear how schools will arrange 2021 re-sits -for example will students have access to teaching materials and classes during this year and if so how will this impact current year 10 or year 12 pupils learning if their class sizes expand?

If students choose to take the exam (either in autumn 2020 or summer 2021), they will be able to use the higher of the two grades (ie centre assessment or exam) for future progression. However, given students are not going to know their results until mid to late August, this does not give them much time to then prepare for examinations in the autumn. This also exposes the existing socio-economic divisions within our education system. Those with quiet places to work, access to computers and the internet, and online tuition will all stand to benefit the most from what some have described as a ‘second bite at the cherry’.

SEN and assessments

The Guidance makes fairly general and common-sense pronouncements around those with SEN. It says that schools and colleges should use their ‘professional experience to make a fair and objective judgement of the grade they believe a student would have achieved had teaching and learning continued as normal and they were able to sit their exams’ which is presumably the case with all students.

It goes on to note that schools and colleges should make their judgement assuming students had continued to receive any usual additional learning support. Where students have an agreed reasonable adjustment for their exams, schools and colleges should also take account of the likely achievement of this student with these in place.

From a practical perspective this is likely to involve input from school SENCO’s and teaching assistants in addition to each subject teacher.

Fees for exams

Details of this will be set by individual exam boards and at the time of writing have not been announced.

[1]https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/880540/Summer_2020_grades_for_GCSE_AS_A_level_guidance_for_teachers_students_parents_FINAL_UPDATED_21APR2020.pdf

[2]https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/32412/11-1043-investigating-accuracy-predicted-a-level-grades.pdf

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Sally Wollaston
Sally Wollaston
Business Development and Marketing Director
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