Our response to the Ofqual briefing on summer examination awards 2021 25th February 2021

Published 25th February 2021

The Association’s response is that Ofqual and the DfE (who have uncharacteristically worked collectively in briefings to subject associations) appear to have learned from the mistakes made last year. We applaud them in the decision made to trust teacher judgement when awarding grades in the summer 2021 examination set.

At a briefing attended this morning, it was explained that external examinations or computer algorithms will not decide grades for this summer’s examinations at GCSE, A Level and across the bulk of TVQs, but grading will instead be left in the hands of the professionals who know the students best. There is no perfect solution to the situation that we find ourselves in, but in our opinion, this was the only sensible option open to Ofqual.

It was further announced that initial thoughts around issuing shortened examinations in all subjects had been dropped. Instead, awarding organisations will produce a range of examination questions (both from existing content and new) across a range of topics that teachers can then select from and use with their students under controlled classroom conditions to gather further evidence where required. This recognises that due to the disruption caused by COVID, students nationally will be at different places in their learning and aspects of the examination syllabus will not have been covered in sufficient depth, if at all.

When schools return on March 8th the emphasis, as much as possible, should be on teaching the syllabus and preparing students for the next stage in their development. While it will be essential to gather assessment evidence for all grades awarded to students, it is important to keep a balance between teaching and assessing. Ofqual and the awarding organisations will be issuing a range of supporting documentation today, including guidance on the most suitable assessment evidence to support grading judgements.

Schools must submit grades for all students by 18th June. This then allows time for the grades to be processed and for a quality assurance process to take place. This process will see awarding organisations sampling evidence, checking the grades' accuracy and the school's internal processes.

Quality assurance checks will be administered randomly. Additionally, schools will be selected as; either they are new centres and therefore may require additional support, or there were concerns with previous examination sets suggesting that the centre may require additional support.  

Grades will be awarded early this year, with A Level grades published on 10th August and GCSE grades two days later on 12th August. This allows time for an appeals process to take place so that progression to the next stage of education is not hindered.

In the first instance, appeals will be made to the school with appeals possible this year both on process and on the final grade awarded. We have some concerns that the level of appeals is likely to be greater than usual, and schools may struggle to manage this process.

Students and their parents who might prefer a grade to be determined by examination will have an opportunity to sit examinations in the Autumn term when a full examination round will take place with examinations available in all subjects.

The NEA (Non-Examined Assessment) should be continued. This constitutes a significant part of the assessment profile in our subject, and the advice throughout the lockdown period has been to continue with the NEA as best possible. It is recognised that access to tools, materials and machines has been limited or non-existent for many students. Students should concentrate on producing working prototypes of their solutions using available materials. It is hoped that the return to school from 8th March will provide a number of students with access to the workshops under COVID-safe conditions.

The NEA is one form of assessment evidence. It can sit alongside other evidence, including design assignments, mock examinations, written work and responses to questions set by the awarding organisations over the coming weeks. It should be noted that assessment evidence gathered prior to March 8th can and should be used where pertinent. However, it was pointed out in the briefing that the most current assessment evidence is often the most accurate.

Centres should attempt to be consistent in the evidence base used for all students and not ‘cherry-pick’ the best pieces of work across individual candidates. That said, it is accepted that there will inevitably be exceptions to this rule (where a student has been ill etc.).

It is important to note that this year’s examination results will not be norm-referenced, and the grades awarded by teachers, subject to quality assurance checks, will stand. It is thus likely that there will be variances in grading compared to previous years.

Awarding organisations will be publishing grade descriptors, examination questions (seen and previously unseen), training information on how to avoid unconscious bias when assessing students, selecting the best assessment evidence etc., later today.

The above will, no doubt, place a greater emphasis on the teacher and the school to get the process set and the grading accurate. It should be stressed that a significant difference between this year and last year is that teachers this year must award grades based on the evidence presented and should not be ‘estimating’ where the student might have performed had COVID not disrupted learning.

As previously stated, there is no perfect solution to the complex problem posed here, but in the circumstances, we believe that the pathway set provides the best opportunity for students to be awarded accurate grading and for progression to the next stage of their educational journey not to be unduly interrupted.

As always, we will continue to monitor the situation and will report back to members with any concerns or demonstrating best-practise.


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