The government and Ofqual have published a consultation on plan B should GCSE and A-level exams have to be cancelled next year.
While the government is confident exams will go ahead, they have published contingency plans after facing fierce criticism for not doing so last year and being caught out when exams were cancelled after the Alpha variant caused a surge in cases.
The consultation outlines that teacher assessed grades would be used again this year should exams be cancelled.
However schools and colleges are being asked to collect evidence throughout the year, with guidance on how internal assessments should be run, just in case.
The consultation adds that “assessing students in line with the proposed guidance would also support students preparing for the exams we expect them to take next summer”.
DfE and the exams watchdog are now seeking views on the guidance. The consultation closes on October 13.
Here’s what you need to know…
Gap between exams to help stop disruption
Before any plan B is implemented, the government wants to take further mitigation for students next summer.
As well as the optionality and advanced notice adaptations, exam boards have been asked to ensure there is at least a 10-day gap between exams in the same subject. This is to reduce the risk of students missing all exams in a subject.
Students who miss one or more exams in a subject will still be able to get a grade through the special consideration process “so long as they have completed the assessment for at least one component of the qualifications”.
Colleges have been provided guidance on how to conduct exams safely, and have been given “general advice” on contingency planning from Ofqual.
If new public health restrictions affect exams, the DfE will review its guidance and consider whether to put in place an Exams Support Service – as used in the 2020 and 2021 autumn series – to support centres with access to venues and invigilators.
‘Tighter’ TAGs guidance if exams are scrapped
The government and Ofqual say “if, and only if” the mitigations are not sufficient to allow exams to proceed it will use TAGs to “maintain stability”.
But they are proposing some changes to the 2021 system, which they admit had “significant workload implications for teachers”.
They acknowledge the flexibility given to schools and colleges last year to collect evidence saw students in many centres “assessed multiple times in a short timeframe, reducing the already limited teaching time available”.
Some students and teachers also “raised concerns that different approaches to gathering evidence were being taken in different schools and colleges, which they considered to be unfair”.
So they think this “tighter guidance” will have advantages such as reducing teacher workload and student anxiety, as well as greater consistency between schools and colleges. That is …
Assess students once a term
In the draft guidance, colleges should plan “assessment opportunities” for TAGs in advance, and secure some evidence early in the academic year – so before Christmas.
Teachers will want to “guard against the risk of over-assessment”, so a “sensible pattern” could be to plan to assess students once in the second half of the autumn term, the spring term and the first half of the summer term.
The tests should allow students an opportunity to show their knowledge and understanding across the full range of content they have been taught. Teachers should also think about “specific assessment opportunities which would provide evidence from a significant proportion of the specification”.
The tests will also help inform teaching and learning, the consultation says. Colleges should also support students to complete their non-examined assessments.
Students to be told if test is for TAG
DfE and Ofqual say students should be told before they take the assessment that their performance in the assessment “would be used to inform their TAG if exams were cancelled to ensure they have time to prepare”.
They should be told the aspects of the content the test will cover, but not the specific questions.
Under the plans, students in the same cohort should be assessed using the same approach where possible and all the assessments taken should be used to determine the TAG – not just those in which students performed best.
As in 2021, the centre will have to document the rationale when consistent evidence is not used for a whole class or cohort. Reasonable adjustments should be made where possible for disabled students.
Teachers shouldn’t determine TAG until exams are cancelled
The consultation says teachers should mark work and carry out any internal standardisation of the marking, in line with exam board guidance where appropriate.
Students can be provided the marks and feedback, but teachers “must not determine a TAG unless exams are cancelled nor tell their students what their TAG might be”.
The original work should also be retained by teachers, and student can be given copies if it would help support their learning.
‘Confidence of authenticity’ if tests can’t happen
Where disruption does not allow for assessments or coursework to be completed, colleges should arrange to collect evidence “that provides equivalent confidence of authenticity” and of “equivalent breadth” where possible.
If that’s not possible, centres may also need to collect evidence that is not based on such assessments for either a whole cohort or for individual students. Coursework can also be marked if partially completed.
If this happens, colleges should record those decisions and the disruption experienced for inclusion in a centre policy.
No extra exam board materials
DfE and Ofqual say that because exam boards provided past papers and test materials in 2021, they “do not believe” further material is necessary.
But they are “interested in views” on any additional support the boards could provide to teachers if TAGs are needed.
Exams would only be cancelled nationally
As in 2021, Ofqual proposes that a “national approach” should be taken to exam cancellation and contingency arrangements.
They “recognise that regional differences” in the impact of the pandemic could potentially “make it easier or harder for exams” to take place in certain parts of the country than others.
But they “believe that it would not be acceptable or command public confidence” to have difference approaches to awarding grades for the same qualifications.
“It would not be possible to align the standards of grades awarded to some students who had taken exams with the TAGs determined by teachers, without the use of a standardisation approach of the type that proved unacceptable in 2020.”
Private candidates should work with centres
If exams are cancelled private candidates wanting to get a TAG would need to make arrangements with a centre to complete the assessments in supervised conditions.
DfE and Ofqual propose recommending these students discuss these arrangements with centres and take them into account when choosing where they want to register for exams.
Rather than having assessments spread out across the year, private candidates could undertake their assessments in a more concentrated period.
Quality assurance and appeals same as 2021
The quality assurance and appeals processes appear to be largely similar to the 2021 process.
The consultation proposes that colleges should only develop centre policies if exams are cancelled “to avoid diverting resources from other priorities”. The details of TAG quality assurance would be published after exams were cancelled.
Centres would also have to submit evidence again – perhaps for more students than 2021, the plans say.
It is envisaged that the same appeals process will be used, but as 2021 appeals are still ongoing “exam boards will want to ensure lessons are learned from that process”.