Ministers confirm exams and grading plan for 2023

GCSE and A-level grades will return back to pre-pandemic levels

GCSE and A-level grades will return back to pre-pandemic levels

Next year’s GCSE and A-level grades will return back to pre-pandemic levels, government has confirmed, albeit with a “soft landing” and exam aides will be allowed in some subjects.

In summer 2022, grades were set at a “midway” point between 2019 and 2021 after two years of teacher grades due to the pandemic. Top grades had soared during these years.

The Department for Education and Ofqual confirmed today that grades will fall back to pre-pandemic standards. But there will be “protection” for students impacted by Covid disruption. It will also help “in case students’ performance is slightly lower than before the pandemic”.

DfE said senior examiners will use the grades achieved by previous cohorts of students, along with prior attainment data, to inform their decisions about where to set grade boundaries.

This means, for example, a typical A-level student who would have achieved a grade A before the pandemic will be just as likely to get an A this summer.

Advance information – which was used last academic year to help students target their revision – will not be available again. It has already been confirmed that optionality in some GCSE subjects would be removed.

But formulae and equation sheets will be staying in GCSE mathematics, physics and combined science

Consultations to “futureproof” exams will also be held. This includes guidance for schools about gathering evidence to ensure “preparedness” should exams need to be cancelled ever again.

Exams boards body the Joint Council for Qualifications will consult on maintaining extra spacing between exams next summer. This was brought in during Covid, but Ofqual said it was well received by schools and reduced the chance of students missing exams through illness.

A third consultation will propose removing the expectation that students engage with unfamiliar and abstract material, such as unfamiliar vocabularly, in modern foreign language GCSE exams from next year onwards.

Chief regulator Dr Jo Saxton said its 2023 plans were a “step further” towards normality, but still recognised Covid’s impact.

“Our approach to grading in 2023 will provide a soft landing for students as we continue the process of taking the exam system back to normal.”

But this means students face a big drop in grades next year. Just a third of the pandemic grade inflation was wiped out among top GCSE results this year, rather than the half that Ofqual aimed for.

Education secretary Kit Malthouse said the transition back to “pre-pandemic normality” was because students working towards qualifications next year “expect fairness in exams and grading arrangements”.

Ofqual has also confirmed that it does not expect adaptations previously used to respond to the pandemic to be used in vocational and technical qualifications (VTQs) this year, meaning the qualifications will return to pre-pandemic standards.

Awarding organisations “are expected to take account of the approach used in general qualifications so that students taking VTQs are not advantaged or disadvantaged in comparison”, Ofqual said.

In T Levels, Ofqual has asked awarding organisations to be “generous in the first years of awards, to reflect the fact these qualifications are new”.

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