Summer Examinations 2021: Frequently Asked Questions
Is there official guidance on how schools will award grades this summer?
Yes, following a consultation exercise, the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) published a detailed guidance document on 26th March 2021 on how schools should derive teacher assessed grades (TAGs) and on the quality assurance processes that will be in place to preserve the integrity of the examination system and to ensure students get the grades that they deserve.
Is the process for determining grades going to be the same as it was last year?
No. There are similarities but there are significant differences. Last year, schools were instructed to provide both a CAG (centre-assessed grade) and a rank order position for each student in each subject. Centres were also required to look principally at the academic performance of a student up to the end of the Spring term to determine their academic trajectory and thereby to issue a grade they considered a student “would have been most likely to achieve if they had sat an exam”.
This year, schools will provide a TAG (teacher-assessed grade) for each subject but will not be required to rank students. Teachers are to use their professional judgement to determine the grade a student is performing at rather than what they would have achieved in a real exam.
Last year, CAGs were primarily based on work completed prior to the March lockdown. This year, TAGs will be able to draw upon evidence gathered in the Summer term too. This is likely to be a fairer way of proceeding and one beneficial to our students, since the longer they have to learn and be tested, the better they should do.
What potential sources of evidence will teachers use as the basis for TAGs?
The latest guidance says that each TAG should be a holistic professional judgement, balancing different sources of evidence and data. Students have produced a lot of assessable work of various types. Teachers will be looking at a range of student work, from homework/classwork produced over the year to results in class tests, examination practices (PPEs), and NEA (non-examination assessment) components such as artwork portfolios and coursework.
The first PPEs took place at the end of the Autumn term and we are running further tests in April. The tests will draw upon questions recently published by the examination boards and other past papers.
Students (and parents) will be aware of the pieces of evidence that will be used for each subject.
Are different examination boards assessing students in the same way regardless of subject?
Broadly speaking, yes. All schools will be providing TAGs for A-levels and GCSEs. There will be no external examinations. The JCQ regulates the qualifications and they have left it to schools to determine an appropriate evidence base for teachers to use to determine TAGs.
Will the evidence base be different for different students?
No. The latest guidance says that “evidence should be used consistently across the class or cohort wherever possible” and “a differentiated approach is not warranted”. There cannot therefore be a ‘pick and mix’ approach whereby we choose the evidence to use on a student-by-student basis. It is of course understood that there will be exceptional cases and that where students have experienced significant disruption some flexibility may be required. In such cases, we will be required to justify the approach that has been taken to the relevant examination board.
Will all sources of evidence have equal weighting?
No. The latest guidance identifies a number of factors that should be taken into account when determining weightings: (i) the coverage of both content and assessment objectives; (ii) the type of marking employed; (iii) and the conditions under which the work was produced. Work produced under supervised test conditions will have greater weight than homework as it is subject to a greater level of control. Homework assignments may cover small parts of the specification that have been recently studied and may be completed with the help of notes, textbooks or tutors, which makes them less valuable as a means of determining overall general performance. The weight that tests carry will depend similarly on how much they cover, how long they are, how demanding they are and the conditions under which they were taken; in particular, whether they were taken online or in a classroom. Staff will co-operate by department and use their collective professional judgement to decide how to determine the value of all the sources of evidence.
How will UHS help my child build a strong evidence base in support of a high teacher assessed grade?
A feature of the UHS system is its strong focus on the regular assessment of our students. The robust homework regime and regular tests mean that we will already have a good picture for each student. A significant part of the Summer term will be given over to revising what has been learned and assessing it. Our students should therefore be in an excellent position to demonstrate the depth and breadth of their learning.
Is it going to be necessary to cover the whole specification or will the teachers be concentrating on a narrower range of topics?
The main reason for suspending the summer exams was that the pandemic had meant that by January 2021 schools were differing widely in what they had been able to teach. The only fair means to assess students was to give centres the power to determine grades relative to what they had managed to teach.
Does this mean that some of the specification won’t be taught?
No. It is important that students should, where possible, cover their subject specifications in full. Firstly, students will want to cover all of a course they have chosen to study. Secondly, this material may be important to prepare them for the next stage, whether this be their A-levels or university courses.
My child has SEN and qualifies for access arrangements. How will this be taken into consideration when determining his/her grades?
The latest guidance says that “reasonable adjustments for disabled students and access arrangements should have been in place when evidence was generated”. All students entitled to access arrangements will by now have been assessed by one of the SEND team and so all students will have been working and completing tests under their “normal way of working”.
My child has experienced mental wellbeing issues for some time. How will this be taken into consideration when deciding his grades?
The post-consultation Ofqual document considers this matter in some detail as the impact of lockdown and COVID-19 on students’ mental health has been considerable and was an issue raised by many during the consultation period. So many students have been affected in so many ways that Ofqual have concluded that it will be impossible via regulation to directly address the impacts on students’ mental health caused by the effects of the pandemic generally. The main step that the government has taken has been to allow schools to determine how their students will be assessed in a way that does as much as possible to alleviate concerns that not having covered all of the course will count against them.
Will UHS be able to claim special considerations?
The latest guidance states special consideration requests will not apply in the usual way this summer because students will not be taking their exams. However, where illness or other personal circumstances might have temporarily affected performance, for example in internal exams or tests, we will bear this in mind when making judgements.
As in a normal year, special considerations relate to circumstances that have a localised effect on performance, such as illness immediately prior to or on the day of an examination, rather to the impact of a standing condition, such as a long-term illness or, this year, the circumstance of being in lockdown. They can play at most a very small role in adjusting a student’s mark, the maximum being 5% for the most exceptional cases such as the recent death of a family member or terminal illness. We will proceed as usual by recording any such incidents and then, as per guidance, factor them in when a student’s TAG is determined.
Will the A-level grade submissions made by UHS be the same as the predictions on my child’s UCAS form?
Not necessarily. The TAG will be the grade that it is judged a student is performing at around the end of the Summer term. UCAS grades are determined in the Autumn term, and so relatively early in a student’s final year of study. They are aspirational grades that represent what a student could achieve with a lot of commitment and determination from that point onwards.
Whilst we work with our students to give them the best possible chance of gaining them or even exceeding them, students can, for a number of reasons, fail to continue the trajectory necessary to fulfil their UCAS predictions.
When will the decisions about my child’s grade be made?
The new JCQ guidance asks that schools teach for as long as possible. We must submit proposed TAGs by 18th June. The two weeks preceding this will be used to moderate marks and complete the relevant paperwork so that the grades can be uploaded to the examination boards.
Are students or parents allowed to make representations to staff at UHS in support of a particular grade being submitted?
No. Students and parents are very welcome to ask general questions about the process by which TAGs will be determined. However, the JCQ guidance is clear that any attempt by students or parents to get their school to submit a higher grade than the evidence supports is inappropriate and where this occurs this may constitute malpractice and be investigated as such by the examination boards.
Will students be told their grade before it is submitted to the examination board?
No. Ofqual requires schools to make candidates aware of the sources of evidence that will form the basis of the TAGs but clearly stipulates that they should not be told the grade that has been submitted.
Will students be told what the grade boundaries are?
No. Grade boundaries usually apply to whole papers and under normal circumstances are set by examination boards to ensure consistency of standards over time. The examination boards will not be providing centres with specific grade boundaries. Schools will instead be provided with examples of marked work and “grade descriptors” to help them translate the marks in the tests they sit into grades.
Are different standards going to apply to students taking public examinations in 2021 compared to a normal year?
No. Schools have been instructed to make it no easier or harder for a student to achieve a particular grade this year compared with previous years. The disruption to normal teaching has meant that students in some schools may not have the same breadth of knowledge, understanding or skills as one would expect under normal circumstances. Schools in such cases are required only to use assessments which test those parts of the subject specification that have been covered. To ensure these assessments are marked to an appropriate standard the examination boards are publishing exemplar materials and marking criteria.
To safeguard against the erosion of academic standards, centres are required to compare the proposed TAGs for this year’s cohort to grades achieved by previous cohorts at the school in 2017, 2018 and 2019 when examinations took place in the normal way. Examination boards will independently conduct a similar analysis and will intervene in cases where a centre’s results are considerably lower or higher than recent years.
Will there be an internal standardisation process to ensure consistency of approach within departments?
Yes. Assessed work will be moderated by other teachers and the curriculum leader to ensure consistency of marking. Curriculum leaders will confirm that procedures have been followed and that the grades are supported by the available evidence. The grades and other data will then be submitted to the Senior Leadership Team for a further careful review. The Principal will confirm the final set of results to be sent to the examination boards in the week ending 18th June 2021, this date being the deadline for submissions.
Will there be any sort of external moderation process to ensure UHS's grades are consistent with those that other schools are submitting?
Yes. By the end of April every school has to submit a Centre Policy that outlines how grades will be awarded. If it is judged that a centre needs further support and guidance, the examination boards will conduct virtual centre visits with the aim of assisting centres to provide valid TAGs and to ensure the best possible systems are in place.
Schools have been told to be mindful of the grades awarded to their students over the years 2017-2019. Where there is significant divergence from the qualification-level, i.e. AS/A-level and GCSE profiles attained in previous examined years, the Head of Centre will be required to submit to the examination board a commentary which addresses this disparity and explains the reasons for it. Examination boards may also sample, at a subject level, the evidence on which grades are determined. If an examination board believes the TAGs submitted in a given subject are not supported by the evidence collated by the centre, they can demand a reconsideration of the grades.
When are the grades likely to be published by the examination boards and will this have any implications for university admissions?
The AS and A-level results will be issued on 10th August 2021 and the GCSE results on 12th August 2021. This is the usual time of year for the release of results and so business should proceed as normal with Clearing and Adjustment taking place for students who have not made their offer or want to change their course.
Will GCSE and A-level grades achieved this summer be compared unfavourably with those gained under more normal circumstances?
No. Schools, universities and employers will recognise the disruption and adverse circumstances under which students have been working and take note of the measures Ofqual has and will put in place to ensure that standards remain the same even though for some schools the breadth of specification coverage may have been reduced.
Will there be any sort of appeals process available to students if they are unhappy with their grade in a subject?
Yes, but it will operate differently from last year. There are three stages. At the first internal stage, a student can ask the school to check whether there has been an administrative or procedural error. If no error is found, the student can take matters to the second stage and ask the school to appeal to the examination board on their behalf. The examination board may accept the school's grade or ask for further evidence.
It is important that students are aware that, as a result of an appeal at these first two stages, grades can go down as well as remaining the same or going up.
If the student still believes an error has been made, they can approach Ofqual’s Exam Procedures Review Services (EPRS). It should be observed that at this stage, what is reviewed is the examination board’s processes in reviewing the school and not the school’s processes themselves and so a student’s grade will not be changed.
The JCQ documentation identifies four grounds on which an appeal may be made:
- An internal administrative error occurred: for example, the centre submitted the wrong grade.
- An internal procedural error occurred: the centre did not follow appropriate procedures.
- A TAG-determination error occurred: the student believes that the centre’s evidence does not support their TAG or is the wrong choice of evidence from which to determine their TAG.
- An external administrative error occurred: for example, the examination board incorrectly changed a TAG during its processing of a centre’s data.