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Public Examination Grades in 2021 - Latest Update

on Wednesday, 10 March 2021.

On 24 February 2021, Gavin Williamson announced the key decisions which have been taken following the Ofqual consultation over alternative arrangements for determining public examination grades in the summer of 2021.

The consultation outcome itself was published on 25 February 2021 and a further consultation then opened over the draft guidance for heads of centre, heads of department, and teachers, which will close on 11 March 2021, and which will provide more detailed guidance over how schools should approach teacher-led assessments. We will provide further updates once more information is available. 

Teacher Assessed Grades

So what do we now know about how the new arrangements will work?

In summary, for A/AS-levels and GCSEs (similar arrangements will apply for IB and BTEC):

  • Teachers will assess grades based on performance on the course (as opposed to last year where they were asked to assess the most likely outcome had exams proceeded).

  • Grades will be submitted to exam boards by 18 June 2021.

  • The assessment should be carried out as late as possible to allow the maximum teaching and assessment opportunity.

  • Heads of centres will have to confirm that students have been taught sufficient content to allow progression to the next stage of their education, although there won't be any specific requirements about the minimum amount of content that students must have been taught.

  • Exam boards will make available to schools support packages to assist with assessing performance, including questions, mark schemes, data about how students typically performed in individual questions and exemplar materials, as well as advice for teachers. The use of these materials is not mandatory.

  • Schools must have internal quality assurance processes, including by using historical data as a reference point. More detailed guidance on quality assurance will be issued by the boards later this month.

  • Exam boards will also quality-assure through random and risk-based sampling of evidence.

  • School have to tell pupils the evidence on which their grades will be based, before the grades are submitted to exam boards. The intention is that this will allow issues associated with, for example, absence, illness or reasonable adjustments to be identified and resolved before grades are submitted.
  • Results will be released on 10 and 12 August 2021 for A/AS-levels and GCSEs respectively.

  • Appeals:

- All students can seek an accuracy check through their schools (exam centres in the case of private candidates).

- If a mistake is found, the school will submit a revised grade to the boards. Boards will issue the revised grade where they are satisfied by the rationale put forward.

- If no mistake is found, the student can nevertheless require the centre to submit an appeal to the board on their behalf. The appeal will set out the school's evidence to support the grade. Boards will consider whether the assessed grade represents "an appropriate exercise of academic judgement" in determining whether to uphold or deny the appeal.

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Practical and Legal Considerations

It is clear that, for the time being, a school's main focus should remain on supporting pupils, good teaching and remediating learning loss to give all pupils the opportunity of accessing their best possible outcomes. Whilst we are awaiting further detail, it is also clear that, once again, teachers will be asked to consider a range of evidence where questions of reliability must be carefully considered. It will be crucial to follow up all concerns over welfare and progress and to ensure robust information systems so that assessments can be made on a fully informed basis.

There are however also considerable logistical challenges of these arrangements which we suggest can be best tackled with effective early planning. In particular:

  • Whilst schools will wish to maximise teaching time, they will need to allow time to collate assessment evidence and share it with pupils with sufficient time to receive and act upon any feedback ahead of the 18 June submission deadline. We would suggest that schools should therefore be aiming to have preliminary assessments completed by the beginning of June.

  • Unlike last year, professional judgement is not protected in the appeals arrangements, which may lead to an increase in appeals. Taken together with the results days which have been brought forward and together, schools should prepare carefully for an increased administrative burden around post-exam services, as compared to a normal exam year. We would recommend early consideration of staffing levels and roles with this in mind.

  • We suggest that schools should also ensure that assessment evidence is carefully collated so that it can be easily and quickly accessed in order to meet quality assurance and appeals requirements.

  • We also encourage schools to begin to consider the interplay between requests for data subject access, appeals and parent complaints to ensure you can be joined up, efficient and meet key deadlines. Your approach may, for example, entail the introduction of a bespoke procedure for the consultation over assessment evidence and/or for post-results appeals and/or amendments to existing policies (eg complaints policy) to adjust existing timetables and procedures.

If you require specialist legal advice on public examination grades, please contact Yvonne Spencer (020 7665 0870) or Joanna Goddard (020 7665 0805) in our Academies & Maintained Schools team, or complete the form below.

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