On 18 March 2020, the government announced that GCSE and A-level exams will not take place in the current academic year to help fight the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). Since then, parents and students have been anxiously awaiting guidance as to how the cancellation of exams will be dealt with to ensure they are not disadvantaged in moving forward with their education.
On 15 April, Ofqual detailed the exceptional arrangements for awarding GCSEs, AS and A levels. The views of the public on the proposed arrangements have been sought via a consultation process which concluded on 29 April 2020.
The proposed arrangements will ask schools and colleges to provide Centre assessment grades for their students who were due to take GCSEs, AS and A levels, EPQs and Advanced Extension Award in maths.
The process for allocating these grades will involve exam boards requesting the following information from schools, colleges and other exam Centres for every student (as quoted by Ofqual):
- 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. Judgements should balance different sources of evidence such as:
- any participation in performances in subjects such as music, drama or PE
- any non-exam assessment – whether or not complete
- the results of any assignments or mock exams
- previous examination results – for example, for any re-sitting students or those with relevant AS qualifications
- any other records of student performance over the course of study
- 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. This information will be used in the statistical standardisation of Centre’s judgements – allowing fine tuning of the standard applied across all schools and colleges
- a declaration from the Head of Centre making the submission
As stated above a standardisation model developed by Ofqual will be applied to all grades. This process should evaluate student’s work fairly so that they obtain their grades to continue to progress to the next stage of their education.
Deadline for submission
These grades must be submitted to the exam boards no earlier than 29 May 2020 and then students will be notified of their results as usual in August 2020. Schools and colleges are not allowed to share the assessment grades or rank order with students or parents prior to final results being issued. This will eliminate any unnecessary pressure being applied to schools and colleges by parents/students to reconsider the grades awarded.
Students will only be able to receive rank and prediction information through submitting a subject access request after results are issued. The request will then take 40 days to be processed.
Currently, there is no direct appeal process in place to challenge these grades. The only proposed way of appealing would be for a school, college or a Centre to challenge the procedure of the exam board. The reason for limiting any appeal route is because of the standardisation process that will be applied which should eliminate any room for error.
Ofqual have indicated that students will be allowed to take exams in Autumn 2020, if they are unhappy with the Centre assessment grade. However, Ofqual have stated that both grades will stand. This raises the question that if there is a significant difference between the two grades, which grade will universities/colleges accept? There is also no certainty as to whether these exams can be held in Autumn 2020.
There are already concerns about how fair the process is. Although, the standardisation model will seek to eliminate errors, it will only regulate and bring the student’s results into line with others. The model will not allow for those anomalies where students outperform any of their previous work and other students. Other queries may surround what work/performance will be assessed and by which teachers. There may be questions raised over the quality of relationships between students and teachers and whether this has affected the grade given. However, there has already been a strong suggestion that questions raised over professional judgement by teachers over grades given will not be entertained.
It would appear that the government are relying on the “sound, professional judgment of teachers”, and, a standardisation model to assimilate grades awarded to GCSE and A level students to ensure that they can progress, however, in doing so are they disadvantaging students in reaching their full potential? This process also puts a huge responsibility on teachers in making decisions, about a student’s future, and it does not seem right that there is no process to appeal where elements of subjectivity could play a part.
Shoosmiths have contributed to the consultation process and this article will be updated in due course.