GCSEs and A-levels Go Ahead, But Made "Fairer"

GCSE and A-level exams will go head this summer but are set to be graded as generously as they were this year to compensate for disruption to schooling, according to the Secretary for Education, Gavin Williamson. The UK government maintains exams are the fairest way to judge a student’s performance.
GCSEs and A-levels Go Ahead, But Made "Fairer"
By David Westley
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GCSE and A-level exams will go head this summer but are set to be graded as generously as they were this year to compensate for disruption to schooling, according to the Secretary for Education, Gavin Williamson.

According to information released by the UK's Department for Education on Thursday (3rd December), students sitting A Level and GCSE exams in 2021 will benefit from a package of exceptional measures to make them as fair as possible and manage the disruption caused by Covid-19: Grades will be more generous, students will be given advance notice of some topic areas, and steps will be taken to ensure every student receives a grade, even if they miss a paper due to self-isolation or illness.

In detail, the new measures for 2021 include

  • more generous grading than usual, in line with national outcomes from 2020, so students this year are not disadvantaged;
  • students receiving advance notice of some topic areas covered in GCSE, AS and A levels to focus revision;
  • exam aids - like formula sheets - provided in some exams giving students more confidence and reducing the amount of information they need to memorise;
  • additional exams to give students a second chance to sit a paper if the main exams or assessments are missed due to illness or self-isolation; and
  • a new expert group to look at differential learning and monitor the variation in the impact of the pandemic on students across the country.
"Exams are the best way of giving young people the opportunity to show what they can do which is why it’s so important they take place next summer.
"But this isn’t business as usual. I know students are facing unprecedented disruption to their learning. That’s why exams will be different next year, taking exceptional steps to ensure they are as fair as possible." Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said.

According to Mr Williamson, the steps follow extensive engagement with education regulator, Ofqual, exam boards and senior leaders across the education sector.

"The measures recognise that while teachers have gone above and beyond to support their pupils during a difficult period, some young people have had their teaching disrupted more than others and will need extra support to catch up on the curriculum and achieve their potential in exams."

Students taking vocational and technical qualifications will also see adaptations to ensure parity between general and vocational qualifications. Some vocational qualifications will require more varied adaptations due to the different qualification types.

The Government has also developed a series of contingency measures with Ofqual that will mean, even if students miss one or more exams due to self-isolation or sickness but have still completed a proportion of their qualification they will still receive a grade.

If a student misses all their assessments in a subject, they will have the opportunity to sit a contingency paper held shortly after the main exams. In the extreme case where a student has a legitimate reason to miss all their papers, then a validated teacher informed assessment can be used, only once all chances to sit an exam have passed.

The Government will set out further detail on this process, and on adaptations to exams, in the new year.

It is not clear, yet, how students taking the IGCSEs and international A' Levels will be affected.

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