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”.

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  1. Paul Bartram

    Would think that to exclude the year 10 and below students from receiving results would be unjust to the students who have prepared and worked equally as hard as other students , who equally should be able to “progress to the next stage of their education”. Many of these students have planned progress through the education system to optimise their abilities.
    It would also be unfair on the teaching staff , school resources and other students if year 10 were to repeat years and I would think that if the students were deemed good enough to take exams that they are good enough to get assessed, which would then negate so many possible problems.

    • I agree with Paul.

      My son is in year 9 at a top grammar, he was due to sit French, they taught them more French in years 7, 8 and 9 so they have had less hours of other subjects.

      It is discrimination, why let them think they can sit early and allow them to sit early then treaty them differently…they are alloweing year 12s who are taking A levels early to be graded.

      This will impact their future as they have chosen options for year 10 and 11 that do not include the early GCSE, they are missing lessons for months now and who will have money to be able to teach them in year 10…why should they have to hold another year when were ready when the others in year 11 do not have to.

      These kids have been through enough so grade the early entrants.

      I have set up a change petition and once approved I am hoping I can get lots of signatures….130,000 plus students sit their GCSEs early…that is 10% who are being treated unfairly.

      Boris Johnson said no child should suffer beacuse of this…well some kids are suffering, I will be reporting OFQUAL and appealing if they do not grade my son.

      • Preety

        Hi A,

        I totally agree with you. Younger students, who have been enrolled and have worked so hard, deserve to get a grade and should not be disadvantaged. You mentioned that you have a set up a Change petition. Could you please send the link to me? I will surely support it.

        Thanks and Regards

    • Hi,

      My daughter is currently in year 10 and I believe it is unfair to expect them to be able to complete GCSE’s to the same level of the years before them. These children are expected to teach themselves highly complicated subjects with little help from teachers. They have also missed almost 2 months of education with the possibility of not returning to school until September, meaning these children are loosing vital months of education. The expectation that the children are receiving the same level of education at home to if they were at school is massively unrealistic. Also, not to mention the amount of stress these children are under by being left in the dark about arguably the most important test they will ever take. This also applies for year 12 students prepping to sit A-Levels also in the summer 2021 term. I believe that Year 13, 12, 11 and 10 should all be given grades that are based off work produced at school rather than formal exams. This leaves a set of results that are fair and a true reflection of the child’s abilities.

  2. Dr Hussham


    I realise the information herein is applicable to local UK boards.

    I’m a teacher at a Cambridge school outside the UK.

    Cambridge Assessment International Examinations (CAIE) has adopted Ofquals model to assign grades to students around the world. Each centre has therefore been asked to assign a grade and rank order to each candidate within each syllabus. From what I can understand, Ofquals model makes an assumption that ALL THE CANDIDATES IN A GIVEN CENTRE are opting for a predicted grade in a given subject. This is perhaps the only way via which they can apply statistical standardisation by looking into grades of a particular centre in a given subject in previous years.

    But what if 25-30% of the weaker students in a given subject decide to withdraw from the exams this summer? How will that affect the smarter candidates who are opting for predicted grades? Will Ofqual put some measure in place to correct for the skewness that results due to withdrawal of the weaker candidates?

    A reply will be highly appreciated.

  3. Louisa

    I home school my daughter and she was due to sit some GCSEs this year but she would be in Year 10 if she was at school so she is also being badly affected. Not only can she not get graded because she is in Year 10 but the government have no plans to grade any private candidates. Unless the schools they have entered through know enough of their work (how could they possibly know this – they do not have anything to do with them – the schools just let them sit their exams there) there is no way for them to get any grade. There seems to be a plan that through some persuasion the government will help them move to sixth forms or university without any grades but that they will go through their life with no GCSE or A Level Grades ever being awarded although they have done all the work. My daughter won’t even be allowed to sit the exams in the autumn which would be a possibility for her as they are not including Year 10s. It’s a disgrace – total discrimination and I’ve been trying to contact Gavin Williamson, OfQual, exam boards but am just being fobbed off at all turns. I think the government will be dealing with some court cases as that seems the only way to get them to listen.

  4. Hi, i am a year 10 student. I have done half of my performing arts exams and have gone through a lot of stress to complete them. I would like to get my gcse as i have worked non stop on researching projects and creating a perfomance for the subject. I liked the idea of doing them early to relieve stress that will build up over tge next GCSE’s. I strongly believe that year 10 should be included as it is the same as year 11 during this time. How would you feel to be in this situation where you work tge best to your ability and then told that it wont count to your final grade. I really do think that it would be very unfair and make many children like me suffer.

  5. Hello, i am a year 10 student. I strongly believe that year 10 should be included in the grading. This is because i have done half of my performing art GCSE exams and have gone through extreme stress completing them. I have done high quality coarse work and research as well as creating a performance for my GCSE. It would be extremely unfair for kids like me.

  6. What about year 12’s who are missing from a quarter to a half of their course and are sitting in limbo for a decision on their a level exams and mock examinations

  7. What about year 12’s who are missing from a quarter to a half of their course and are sitting in limbo for a decision on their a level exams and mock examinations?

  8. I am a fellow year 10 student and quite a lot of us agree that this is unfair on a lot of us because some of us have started exams and we are not getting any new lessons.If Boris Johnson and then Government really care they would let year 10s not proceed without their exams.

  9. Gillian Brotherwood

    My year 9 daughter was due to sit her GCSE in French.
    It isnt a ‘free’ GCSE she has work as hard and studied hard towards this exam and received a very good result in her mocs.
    Next year is going to be very stressful for her catching up with all her subjects as she has received no schooling at all over this period – I dont consider sending working sheets and schooling.
    Now she is expected to catch up with her studies and study for this GCSE aswell. Its disgusting and really damaging for their mental health

  10. I am concerned that the passive attitude towards mock exams by some students and parents, including mine, and the long standing acceptance of…. dont worry it was only a mock, it doesnt count… will impact on deciding grades, when results for actual exams, clearly taken more seriously may well have resulted in far more productive grades. I fear for my lad, his complacency towards his mocks. I also fear that future employers will consider 2020 leavers grades as fictitious and not worthy of consideration. Phew…… that off my chest..

  11. Yo . I’m a year 11 so this year will mainly effect my years future in college and life . Regarding grade boundrys , they should be lowered supremely as there is no actual exam data for everyone . I find it unfair to the people who didnt put in the effort in their work or to people who just cant . I personally feel that exam boards shouldn’t give grades lower than a 3 to anyone as we wont have the chance to prove how good we are to the boards . ✌peace