This year’s autumn exam series will be similar to the one held in 2020, but with GCSE exams potentially taking place later, Ofqual has proposed.

A consultation on plans for the series has also asked whether AS-level exams need to be offered this time, following low entries last year.

The government announced last month that an autumn series would go ahead for the second year in a row, for students unhappy with their teacher assessment grades.

It is proposed that the autumn series should be open to any student who entered or who had intended to enter exams this summer, with students able to use the better of their summer or autumn grade.

But Ofqual said it has not yet taken any decisions on the approach to grading. Last year, the “generosity” from the summer 2020 grades was carried forward.

Students will also not be given advance notice of topics, as was proposed for this summer before exams were cancelled.


Results based only on exams, not coursework

As happened last year, it is proposed that exam boards should only determine grades on performance in the autumn exams. Non-exam assessments will not be taken into account.

Art and design subjects, which do not normally have exams, would be assessed through students completing an exam board’s set task only.

Ofqual’s interim chief regulator Simon Lebus

Ofqual is proposing that A-levels would be sat in October, the same as last year and results issued before Christmas.

But GCSEs could be slightly later, in November and early December. GCSEs were run just wholly in November last year.

Exams would be in their usual form and number for each subject. But Ofqual proposes that boards will not have to offer exams in subjects where there are no entries by the entry date.

Will AS-level exams go ahead>

The consultation also asks whether it should “require” exam boards to offer GCSE and A level exams but “permit” them to offer AS exams if they choose to do so, after low entry rates last year.

Alternatively, Ofqual said they may “not allow” exam boards to offer any AS exams at all.

There were less than 2,000 AS-level entries in the autumn exam series last year, compared to almost 20,000 at A-level and almost 19,000 at GCSE.

The consultation acknowledges that providing an autumn series will increase costs for both exam boards, schools and colleges.

Last year, DfE provided a support package to help schools and colleges with “essential additional costs” from the autumn series, including exam fees, sites and invigilators. It is not known whether this will be provided again.

Today Ofqual said that, as entry numbers are “likely to be low”, exam boards “will be unlikely to recover their costs unless they significantly increase their entry fees”.

It added that although exam boards may provide rebates to schools and colleges for summer exam fees, the boards “can reasonably be expected to take account of costs of providing autumn exams when calculating the size of any rebate”.


No extra help in Autumn exam series

Ofqual is proposing that exam boards will not provide advance information or additional materials, as was proposed for this summer before exams were cancelled because it would be “disproportionately burdensome” to require them to do so.

Requiring them to provide advance information for the autumn exams would introduce “further additional burden – and costs” for boards, and “increase risk to the successful delivery of the autumn series”.

Ofqual said students who decide to take autumn exams are “unlikely to receive any additional teaching to support them to prepare for the exams”.

“There is a risk that the provision of advance information would advantage students who either continued to have access to their subject teachers or who were able to secure support in other ways, for example through private tutors. This would introduce a degree of unfairness that we believe should be avoided.”


Concerns advance notice could ‘narrow curriculum’

The regulator is also concerned that publication of advance information would make autumn papers less useful resources for teachers to use as mock exams.

Ofqual added that information about the topics in November might also have implications for summer 2022 exams.

“Students and teachers might conclude that topics identified for inclusion in the autumn series would not come up again in summer 2022 papers. This is not necessarily the case, but that belief might cause some early narrowing of the curriculum for GCSE and A level students.”

Ofqual is also proposing that exam boards will replace certificates showing only summer 2021 grades with certificates showing autumn grades, if students request them.

Normal reviews of marking and appeal arrangements would apply.

The consultation is open until April 9.

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