Coronavirus: An explainer on how GCSE and A-level grades will be awarded this summer

Ofqual has revealed how students will be assessed for GCSE and A-level qualifications this summer, following the cancellation of exams.

The exams regulator has published guidance for schools and colleges, along with separate guidance for teachers and a letter to learners.

Here’s our explainer on how it will all work… 


1. Schools and colleges must provide a grade and rank for each student in each subject

Schools and colleges are being asked to provide a centre-assessment grade for each learner.

This will be the grade that each pupil is most likely to have achieved if they had sat their exams, and will be based on evidence held by schools and colleges and reviewed by subject teachers and heads of department.

Schools and colleges will also have to provide a rank order of students within each grade.

This is because the statistical standardisation process will “require a more granular scale” than grades alone, Ofqual says.

If a school or college had 15 pupils for GCSE maths with a centre assessment grade of 5, they should be ranked from 1 to 15, where 1 is the “most secure/highest attaining”, 2 is the next most secure, and so on.

Ofqual has said schools and colleges  won’t need to send this data to exam boards any earlier than May 29, giving them at least eight weeks to collect it.

They expect results will be available no later than the usual dates in August, but potentially earlier.


2. Students should not be set extra work

Ofqual said it recognises that, given the timing of the announcement, schools and colleges may have “incomplete evidence”.

However, the regulator is adamant that judgments should be made “on the evidence that is available”.

This means there is “no requirement” to set additional mock exams or homework tasks to help determine grades, and Ofqual states that “no student should be disadvantaged if they are unable to complete any work set after schools were closed”.

Where additional work has been completed since schools and colleges closed on March 20, leaders should exercise caution where that evidence suggests a change in performance.

There is also no requirement to send any supporting evidence to exam boards, though schools and colleges should retain records of this in case exam boards ask about the data.

Schools and colleges should also not ask students to complete any non-exam assessment work, and marks do not need to be submitted for this.


3. What grades will be based on

Ofqual says judgments must be objective and based only on evidence of pupil performance, including…

  • Records such as progress review data, classwork, bookwork and participation in performances in subjects like music, drama and PE
  • Performance in non-exam assessment, even if not fully completed
  • Previous grades (for re-sitting pupils)
  • AS-levels (for A-level pupils who took an AS)
  • Performance in class or homework assessments, and mock exams
  • Tier of entry (in tiered subjects)
  • Previous results of the school in the subject
  • Performance of this year’s pupils compared to those in previous years
  • Any other relevant information


4. What exam boards will do

Exam boards will use a statistical model being developed by Ofqual to standardise grades across centres in each subject.

The model will combine a range of evidence, including expected grade distributions at national level, schools’ and colleges’ results in previous years and the prior attainment of students at school and college level.

Importantly, the process will not change the rank order of students within schools and colleges, and won’t assume that the distribution of grades in each subject or school and college should be the same.

However, if judgments are found to be more generous or severe than others, final grades for some or all students will be adjusted down or up (meaning those pupils at either end of the rankings per grade are most likely to move up or down).

“We will do this to align the judgements across centres, so that, as far as possible, your students are not unfairly advantaged or disadvantaged this summer,” Ofqual said.

Ofqual is optimistic it won’t see any deliberate inflation of results, but aren’t naive that some schools may inflate grades. However they are confident the standardisation process will be able to level that out.


5. What about home-schooled and other private candidates?

Some schools and colleges will have accepted entries from private candidates, for example, those who have been home-schooled, or are following distance learning programmes.

These students should be included in the centre assessment process where the head of centre is “confident that they and their staff have seen sufficient evidence of the student’s achievement to make an objective judgement”.

However, students who do not have an existing relationship with a school or college “may instead need to take exams in the autumn to get their grades”.

Ofqual said it is “urgently exploring whether there are alternative options for those students”.


6. Ofqual will consult on excluding year 10s

Schools will only be able to submit grades for pupils in year 11 and above, including those taking A-levels in year 12.

Ofqual is proposing that grades are not issued for pupils in year 10 or below, and that schools should withdraw any entries for them. A consultation on this proposal will be launched “shortly”.

“We realise that, if the final decision is to exclude year 10 and below students, this will be disappointing for those students, but our objective in awarding grades based on teachers’ judgments is primarily to allow students to progress to the next stage of their education, or to employment or training.

“Students in year 10 and below will have the opportunity to sit exams in future exam series. We will make a final decision and provide further information before any data needs to be submitted to the exam boards.”


7. Don’t share your grades with students

Schools and colleges must not “under any circumstances” share assessment grades or rank orders with pupils, their parents or carers, or “any other individuals outside the centre” before final results have been issued.

According to Ofqual, this will protect the “integrity” of teachers’ judgments, and will avoid school leaders and staff being “put under pressure by students and parents, to submit a grade that is not supported by the evidence”.

Schools and colleges are being reminded that although pupils are allowed to request their personal data under GDPR, exam marks and other information used to determine results are exempt from disclosure under paragraph 25(2) of the Data Protection Act.


8. Grounds for appeal will be ‘narrow’

Ofqual says the normal arrangements for reviews of marking and appears “will not apply” this year.

The regulator is considering what arrangements might be put in place “to allow an effective appeal”, and says it will consult on proposals “shortly”

“Centres should expect the possible grounds of appeals to be relatively narrow and based on application of the process. In submitting data to exam boards, centres should make sure that it is correct.”

Pupils who feel their summer grades do not reflect their ability will be given the opportunity to take exams, either in autumn or next summer. If they choose to do this, “both grades will stand”, Ofqual said.


9. Take disabilities and personal circumstances into account

Where disabled students who have had reasonable adjustments agreed (for example, the use of a reader or scribe), or where other pupils have agreed access arrangements, schools’ judgments should take account of “likely achievement with the reasonable adjustment/access arrangement in place”.

However, special consideration requests, in the event that a pupil is unable to take an assessment or suffers a traumatic event that might affect their performance, “will not apply this summer”.

Instead, judgments “should reflect how the students would have performed under ordinary circumstances”.

“Where illness or other personal circumstances might have affected performance in mock exams, centres should bear that in mind when making their judgments.”


10. Does this process apply to vocational and technical qualifications too?

No. Ofqual said many students will be taking other general and vocational or technical qualifications instead of or alongside GCSEs, AS and A-levels.

While this process does not apply to those qualifications, the same “aims” apply. They are “working as quickly as possible to develop an approach and we will provide further information as soon as we can”.