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Published on January 20, 2021 by Holly Porter

GCSE and A-Level exams have been cancelled for the second year running.

on the 4th January, the government revealed that ‘teacher assessed grades’ would be used instead, and that teachers would be given ‘training and support’ to ensure consistency.

this now means that all grades will be allocated by teachers, with some moderation by the Department for Education. The government has also confirmed that algorithms won’t be used and grades won’t get standardised automatically.

Externally Set Assessments?

On the 13th January, Secretary of State for Education Gavin Williamson wrote to Ofqual requesting they explore the option of externally set assessments to help teachers grade students.

In response, Ofqual’s Chief Regulator Simon Lebus said they would work with the government “to put in place the fairest possible alternative arrangements”.

The letter says: “We know that the more the evidence comes from students’ performance in externally set papers, the fairer and more consistent teachers’ assessments are likely to be, because all students are given the chance to show what they can do in the same way. Appeal arrangements are also likely to be more straightforward. Of course, such an approach will mean teachers have less flexibility in terms of the evidence they could use.”


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Will This Mean a Delay?

If and when confirmed, these externally set assessments could happen later than usual to maximise any remaining teaching time.

In addition, the content of these assessments could also be different than expected. This is because according to Williamson, “the consultation should set out proposals which allow students to be assessed based on what they have learned, rather than against content they have not had a chance to study.”

What Will Teacher Assessed Grades Look Like?

We don’t have the details on how teacher assessed grades will look at the moment, and how they would work with externally set assessments.

We do know, however, that teachers will receive guidance from exams regulator Ofqual on how to allocate grades. The body will consult with schools and publish results at the end of February. So it will be a while until we know more.

Are There Other Options?

When the news of exam cancellations broke, our prediction was that students might need to submit work to their teachers that demonstrates they’re performing at a certain grade level. We still believe this is a fair prediction given the current information we have been given.  Teachers could use the guidance given to look at individual pieces of work and/or a portfolio as a whole and to assign you a grade. This is a huge departure from last year’s grading process, which did not take into account particular pieces of work to justify the grade a teacher submitted.

Another prediction we made was that if the usual 1-9 or A*-U grades are to be allocated then it would seem likely that you’ll be asked to complete work that’s similar to exam questions, as that’s the only way to demonstrate that you’re working at a certain grade level.

If this turns out to be the case and you’ll have to do work that’s similar to exam questions, this would still be different from traditional exams. This is because teachers may have discretion over when this work was completed, what exact questions were asked, and they might be able to give notice of the topics they were assessing in advance. This could also apply to externally set assessments.

To confirm this, we will have to wait for the guidance to be published. It might be that schools are expected to run a full set of mocks, delivered over a specified period, to get the work from students to allocate grades. Or, if school closures and pupil absences make that difficult, they may be able to get the work from students in chunks in usual class time.

What’s Happening In Scotland?

The Scottish government has also scrapped exams. Between March and May, schools will be required to collect evidence and submit grades for their students to the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) in each subject.

The SQA which essentially acts as a backstop regulator by taking samples of student work and giving feedback to teachers will work with schools to support teachers in assessing and moderating students’ work. It will also act as a final check on the grades submitted. However, there is no ‘external assessment’. Students’ grades will be assigned based on work submitted throughout the year. If things look really fishy, e.g. where samples of student work do not match the grades submitted, the SQA can ask schools to resubmit their grades.

What’s the Plan For Wales?

The Welsh government will also be allocating grades using internal assessments that will be designed and marked by teachers. Unline in Scotland, however, these will also be supplemented by external assessments, which will be designed and marked by the welsh exam board (WJEC).

These external assessments will still be different from standard exams, though not as different as a teacher-designed assessment, because schools can decide when and how to administer the assessments within a given time frame. They will also be told by WJEC the broad topics that will be assessed and so they can inform their students.

The arrangements for external assessments might end up looking similar to what the English government is considering.

What Should I Do?

Keep studying as if you still had exams! It will definitely be worth practising with previous exam questions. Partly because they are a good way of getting you to assimilate the knowledge from your course, which will be useful no matter what form the assessments take, and partly because you may well be assessed by your teacher using something that looks a lot like an exam question.

Schools will have to provide evidence of student ability to show that their grading is correct, so you will probably need to show what you know, so you can support your teacher’s grading. This means you still need to put in the work.

What if Schools Don’t Re-Open as Planned?

This is the million-pound question. Ofqual expects that students will be sitting assessments in schools and colleges – but recognises that this may not be possible. It’s now considering allowing students to sit assessments at home.

We’ll be keeping a close eye on the situation and we’ll update you as things evolve.

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