GCSE and A-level students sitting exams next year will be given more generous grading, advance notice of some topics and “exam aids” owing to the disruption caused by Covid-19.

They will also be offered a “second chance” to sit papers if they miss any through illness or self-isolation and in “extreme cases” where a student has a “legitimate reason” to miss all their exams, a “teacher informed assessment” can be used as a last resort.

The package of measures has been announced by the Department for Education and Ofqual today in their efforts to “boost fairness” in recognition of the “unprecedented disruption” to students’ learning.

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Education secretary Gavin Williamson (pictured) said he hopes these “exceptional steps” will give young people the “clarity and confidence they need to achieve every success”.

On top of the three-week delay to GCSE and A-level exams previously announced by government, more generous grading will be provided “in line with national outcomes from 2020, so students this year are not disadvantaged”.

Under this system, every subject will “receive the same level of generosity so that the approach doesn’t advantage some students over others depending on their subject choice”.

“Exam aids”, such as formula or vocabulary sheets, will also be provided for use in “some exams” – but it is not expected students will be allowed to bring passages of text into the exam.

It is not clear at this stage which aids will be permitted for each subject or what FE-based courses will be included.

Students will also be able to focus their revision with advance notice of certain topics which will be covered in GCSEs, AS and A-levels; and additional exam papers are being scheduled for if a student misses exams or assessments due to illness or the need to self-isolate.

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”.

Vocational and technical assessments will also be adapted, depending on the qualification. Ofqual had already announced in September that awarding bodies would be given the freedom to adapt their assessment arrangements to mitigate any impact of the pandemic.

The range of adaptations announced today will help make things fairer

The government has said it will set out the detail on this process, and on adaptations, in the new year.

Ofqual also said it is not planning to add a footnote of some sort to students’ certificates who achieve next year to say they benefitted from these exceptional measures.

While the government will still publish data from the 2021 tests, exams and assessments for schools and post-16 providers, they will not publish the normal ranked performance tables with school and college-level data, based on tests and exams

An expert advisory group will also be assembled to “monitor the variation in the impact of the pandemic on students across the country”.

Chief executive of the Association of Colleges, David Hughes, said there is “no simple solution which the government could implement to ensure that exams are fair for everyone in 2021, but the range of adaptations announced today will help make things fairer”.

He added that there is an “urgency on this” because over 50,000 students will sit BTEC and other technical exams in January and “all students want certainty about how assessments and grades will be carried out as soon as possible”.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the solutions put forward by the DfE are “not perfect” but “will make them as fair as they can be in the circumstances”.

“Nothing can be given the fact that learning has been so disrupted by coronavirus and that pupils have been affected to vastly different extents,” he added.

Bill Watkin, chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges Association, added that today’s plans introduce “some welcome flexibilities” but he remains “concerned about the differential impact that Covid has had on young people in different parts of the country”.