A-Level and GCSE results day brought forward as teacher-determined grades to be awarded

A-level and GCSE students will receive grades determined by their teachers earlier in August to give them more time to appeal, the Education Secretary has announced.

All pupils in England will be allowed to appeal their grades at no additional cost and they will be offered the opportunity to sit exams in the autumn if they are still unhappy with their results.

Exam boards will provide teachers with optional assessment questions for students to answer to help schools decide what grades to award, after this summer’s exams were cancelled due to the pandemic.

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But these assessments are not expected to be carried out in exam conditions and teachers will have the flexibility to choose how long students have to complete the task, and where it will be carried out.

Exams last year were cancelled due to coronavirus. Photo: PAExams last year were cancelled due to coronavirus. Photo: PA
Exams last year were cancelled due to coronavirus. Photo: PA

The final decision comes after the Association of School and College Leaders said students should not be expected to sit compulsory “mini-exams” to help teachers with their grading judgments amid Covid-19 disruption.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson had previously suggested students could be asked to sit externally-set papers to help teachers with grading.

The Department for Education and England’s exams regulator Ofqual have also confirmed that teachers will be able to draw on a range of evidence when determining grades – including mock exams, coursework, or other work completed as part of a pupil’s course, such as essays or in-class tests.

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Pupils will only be assessed on what they have been taught after months of school and college closures.

Schools and colleges will submit their grades to exam boards by June 18 to maximise teaching time, and students will receive grades in early August, once quality assurance checks have been completed by the exam boards.

Normally students receive their results in mid to late August, but A-level students will receive their results on August 10 and GCSE pupils will receive theirs two days later on August 12.

It is hoped that bringing results day forward will ensure pupils have enough time to log appeals so A-level students do not miss out on their preferred university places for the autumn.

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The grading of students became a fiasco last summer when exams were cancelled amid school closures.

Thousands of A-level students had their results downgraded from school estimates by a controversial algorithm, before Ofqual announced a U-turn which allowed them to use teachers’ predictions.

But this year, the regulator will not use an algorithm to standardise teachers’ estimated grades if they appear more generous than they should be.

The DfE said schools and colleges will conduct multiple checks – such as on the consistency of judgments across teachers and that the correct processes are followed – to ensure as much fairness as possible.

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Exam boards will also conduct their own checks, through a combination of random sampling and more targeted scrutiny.

It comes after a joint consultation on exams received more than 100,000 responses – with more than half coming from students themselves.

Mr Williamson said: “Young people have shown incredible resilience over the last year, continuing with their learning amidst unprecedented challenges while the country battles with this pandemic. Those efforts deserve to be fairly rewarded.

“That’s why we are providing the fairest possible system for those pupils, asking those who know them best – their teachers – to determine their grades, with our sole aim to make sure all young people can progress to the next stage of their education or career.”

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Students studying vocational and technical qualifications, which are often taught alongside GCSEs and A-levels, will also receive grades assessed by teachers rather than sitting exams.

Ofqual’s interim chief regulator Simon Lebus said: “The aim is to make it no harder overall for this year’s students to receive a particular grade than students in other years.”

Exam boards will provide guidance to teachers on how to make judgments before the Easter holidays.

Leora Cruddas, chief executive of the Confederation of School Trusts, said: “There is a reasonable consensus that teacher judgment will need to be both supported, scaffolded and quality assured.

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“This is because although the pandemic has had a damaging impact, we still want assessment outcomes this year to reflect something objective.”

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the school leaders’ union NAHT, said the plans “appear to chart a path which avoids the awful chaos of last year”.

He said: “This set of decisions is, however, only the starting point. It is now down to the awarding bodies to provide the detail which schools and colleges need to implement the process.

“Although earlier results for students seeking to start university could be beneficial, cramming GCSE results into the same week will place unnecessary pressure on to the system.”

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Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said the final decisions are “better” than the original proposals, adding it is “likely the least worst option available”.

But she added: “However, there are still question marks over how it is expected that the extra work necessary to facilitate grading will be dealt with.

“Substantial time will need to be set aside for the initial assessments and gradings and then the internal school moderation processes. It may well be that extra staff need to be employed to release teachers for this important work.”