17 Feb 2021

Exams and functional skills assessments in 2021

An update on and background to the current situation regarding exams and assessments in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and information on the newly launched DfE consultation. 


Students who were due to sit exams this summer will receive grades determined by teachers, as part of proposals published on the 15th of January, to maximise fairness and help young people progress to the next stage of their education or training.

Following the cancellation of this year’s summer exams, the Department for Education and Ofqual launched a consultation seeking views on how to award grades in a way that reflects students’ performance accurately, recognising the disruption they have faced this year.

Grades will be based on teacher assessment, with teachers supported in making decisions with guidance and training from exam boards. The consultation will consider the range of evidence teachers use to award a grade, which could include coursework, other forms of assessment and papers provided by exam boards, to support consistency and fairness across schools and colleges.

The consultation closed on the 29th of January 2021. You can find out more on the Ofqual blog and on the gov.uk website

Functional skills

The consultation also considered the awarding of functional skills and vocational and technical qualifications. Vocational qualifications with written exams scheduled for February and March will not go ahead as planned; alternative arrangements will be put in place. The planned approach to awarding vocational and technical grades in 2021 is outlined here.

Remote invigilation of functional skills

It is recognised that many learners are currently experiencing difficulty in taking functional skills assessments: they may be unable to attend their normal place of study or work (apprentices) or travel to an exam centre. Awarding organisations have been working on putting in place arrangements for those learners to access alternative venues or to undertake remote assessments. For a brief rundown and links to current information relating to remote assessment and remote invigilation for functional skills qualifications, click here

You can read about arrangements that were made for GCSE exams and functional skills assessments in England in 2020 here.


An independent review set up by the Welsh Government concluded that any form of exams in 2021 would be unfair. Exam regulator Qualifications Wales also said GCSE exams should be cancelled but some A-level exams should still take place. Education Minister Kirsty Williams has now considered both recommendations and announced on the 10th of November that Wales' GCSE, AS and A-level exams in summer 2021 are to be cancelled, with grades based on classroom assessments. Assessments will be done under teacher supervision, and will begin in the second half of the spring term. They will be externally set and marked but delivered within the classroom. Read more


In Scotland, the GCSE-equivalent National 5 and the A level-equivalent Highers and Advanced Higher exams have been cancelled. They will be replaced by teacher assessed grades. Read more

Northern Ireland

All GCSE, AS and A-level examinations in Northern Ireland will not go ahead this year due to the Covid-19 crisis. It is not yet clear what alternative arrangements will be in place for awarding grades. Read more

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