Since the start of the pandemic, the impact on learning for pupils around the country has been profound, with repeated school closures and the introduction of remote learning. The latest government announcement has lead to the closure of primary and secondary schools again and with this comes the questions on what effect this will have on exams later this summer.
Following school closures, on 4th January 2021, the UK Government announced that “it is not possible or fair for all exams to go ahead this summer as normal. The Education Secretary will work with Ofqual to put in place alternative arrangements.” More recent updates have seen Gavin Williamson state he hopes all students will be back in school before the Easter holidays, and that families will be given at least 2 weeks notice ahead of schools reopening. This however, gives little indication as to the position regarding exams.
GCSE & A LEVELS
In light of this disruption to schooling, this means that both GCSE and A-Level exams will not go ahead this academic year. Currently, it is unclear how students will be assessed in place of them taking their exams, although the government have confirmed that teacher-based assessment will play a central role in determining student’s grades. This will likely involve two key factors; firstly, through internal assessments that will be planned and marked by schools and secondly, to include non-examination assessment, through coursework or written work that students will undertake throughout the year.
This will be a slightly different to position to the cancelled exams in summer 2020, where students were given retrospective grades based on the work they had done over the school year so far. This year, as schools have had greater prior notice and therefore have time to put an assessment process in place, students final grades will still be based on some form of assessment.
With little government guidance on the format of teacher based assessment to date, this of course raises the issue of fairness and standardisation across the board. This is something for the government to address, and we are hopeful they will issue further guidance on this in due course.
Outside of the UK, many schools around the world remain open and students have had a less disrupted year than in the UK. Therefore, for many international students, at the time of writing, IGCSE and international A-Levels plan to proceed as normal, although this is of course subject to change. For UK schools that run both GCSE & iGCSE subjects, it is likely they will be given the opportunity to opt out of the iGCSE exams and for students to be assessed by their teachers instead. This will allow a level playing field for all students at these schools. In November 2020, the IB ran this ‘dual award’ approach with success, allowing those students in the position to do so to take the exams, and those whose schooling has been more disruptive were able to be assessed by teachers.
Whilst it is unclear as to exactly how schools will be assessing pupils, and this may vary from school to school, it is important for students to note that this will not have an impact on how their final grades are interpreted. At the end of this, students will come out with a set of grades, as they would after taking the exams in a normal year. These will be accepted by UCAS etc, without any scrutiny or consideration as to how these were obtained. There are thousands of students in this situations, and so students really should not worry about how their grades may be perceived further down the line.
In addition to the changes for GCSE & A levels, several independent schools have already changed their admissions procedures for their entrance exams this year due to the ongoing disruption. Each school will have a different approach to this, and we recommend speaking directly to the school about changes to their examination process. In general, timelines have shifted, and the types of assessments have changed; there will more emphasis on interview (be that in person or via video call), and less on academic results due to the difficult of assessing at this time. Separately, ISEB have announced 13+ examinations will be going ahead this summer and therefore it is important that pupils prepare for these as best they can.
Whilst the format for this year’s exams has changed and remains largely up in the air, it is important to remember that some form of assessment will still take place between now and the time exams would have been sat. Students will need to be best prepared for whatever outcome, and it is our recommendation that students should continue to work towards completing their courses to the highest level possible.
For official advice, please see the government website at Consultation on how GCSE, AS and A level grades should be awarded in summer 2021 – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk), or the individual exam boards for the most up to date information.
Should you have any further questions on this year’s exams, homeschooling, private tuition or university support, please do not hesitate to get in touch with the Quintessentially Education team – email@example.com