UK Announces A Level and GCSE Award Process

Following the decision take on 18th March by the UK Government to cancel A Level and GCSE exams for 2020 in light of the Covid-19 virus, it has now announced the process through which students will receive their grades.
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This article is part of an editorial series on Covid-19

Announcing the process that Exam Boards will follow as a result of the cancellation of all public exams in the UK, a statement by the UK's Department of Education  on 20th March stated that the Exam Regulator, Ofqual, and Exam Boards will work with teachers to provide grades to students whose exams have been cancelled this summer, following its actions to slow the spread of coronavirus.

Earlier today, the Pearson Edexcel Exam Board stated that where international schools are closed and public exams are not permitted due to Covid-19, students will have the opportunity to receive a grade for qualifications where an entry has been made. These will be awarded using the same principles as for UK GCSE and GCE A Levels. The Cambridge International Exam Board and Oxford AQA are expected to follow suit where students are unable to sit their IGCSE, International AS and A Level exams.

According to a statement released by the Department of Education in the name of Gavin Williamson, the Education Secretary, the Government's priority "is now to ensure affected students can move on as planned to the next stage of their lives, including going into employment, starting university, college or sixth form courses, or an apprenticeship in the autumn."

The process, which Ofqual will develop, will provide a calculated grade to each GCSE, A and AS level student which reflects their performance as fairly as possible, and Ofqual will work with the Exam Boards to ensure this is consistently applied for all students. There will also be an option to sit an exam early in the next academic year for students who wish to.  The Exam Boards will be asking teachers, "who know their students best", to submit their judgement about the grade that they believe the student would have received if exams had gone ahead.

Teachers will be asked to take into account a range of evidence and data including performance in mock exams and non-exam assessment. Guidance on how to do this fairly and in a robust manner, will be provided to schools and colleges. The Exam Boards will then combine this information with other relevant data, including prior attainment, and use this information to produce a calculated grade for each student, which will be a best assessment of the work they have put in.

The process has not yet been finalised, but Ofqual and the Exam Boards will be discussing with teachers’ representatives before finalising the approach, to ensure that it is as fair as possible. 

The aim is to provide these calculated grades to students before the end of July. In terms of a permanent record, the grades will be indistinguishable from those provided in other years. The Government also aims to ensure that the distribution of grades follows a similar pattern to that of other years, so that this year’s students "do not face a systematic disadvantage as a consequence of these extraordinary circumstances."

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said:

"Cancelling exams is something no Education Secretary would ever want to do, however these are extraordinary times and this measure is a vital but unprecedented step in the country’s efforts to stop the spread of coronavirus.  My priority now is to ensure no young person faces a barrier when it comes to moving onto the next stage of their lives – whether that’s further or higher education, an apprenticeship or a job. I have asked exam boards to work closely with the teachers who know their pupils best to ensure their hard work and dedication is rewarded and fairly recognised. 

We recognise that some students may nevertheless feel disappointed that they haven’t been able to sit their exams. If they do not believe the correct process has been followed in their case they will be able to appeal on that basis. In addition, if they do not feel their calculated grade reflects their performance, they will have the opportunity to sit an exam at the earliest reasonable opportunity, once schools are open again. Students will also have the option to sit their exams in summer 2021."

There is a very wide range of vocational and technical qualifications, including BTEC, as well as other academic qualifications for which students were expecting to sit exams this summer. These are offered by a range of awarding organisations, and have differing assessment approaches – in many cases students will already have completed modules or non-exam assessment which could provide evidence to award a grade. The Government is encouraging these organisations to show the maximum possible flexibility and pragmatism to ensure students are not disadvantaged. Ofqual is working urgently with the sector to explore options and the Department of Education will work with them to provide more details as soon as possible.

Representatives of UCAS have also confirmed that they expect universities to be flexible and do all they can to support students and ensure they can progress to higher education.

Finally, the Education Secretary noted that the Government will not publish any school or college level educational performance data based on tests, assessments or exams for 2020.

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