7 Sep 2020

Maths and English assessment and qualifications


An update on the assessment and awarding of GCSE and functional skills maths and English qualifications in 2021.

GCSEs

GCSEs and A-level exams were cancelled this summer because of the coronavirus pandemic, meaning grades were awarded this August based on teacher predictions moderated by the exam boards (centre-assessed grades). 

Exams will be back next year

Ofqual, the exams regulator, has made it clear that they believe learners should sit some sort of exam next year. On the 2nd of September, while giving evidence to the House of Commons Education Select Committee, Roger Taylor, the chair of Ofqual, told MPs:  “We have been very clear that we think that some form of examination or standardised test or something that gives the student an ability to demonstrate their skills and knowledge is going to be essential to any awarding system that students regard as fair.”

Online tests and exam date flexibilities

Ofqual has suggested that learners could sit online tests next summer if Covid-19 makes traditional exams impossible. Another option would be to produce multiple exam papers. This would mean that if a student were not able to sit an exam on a certain date because they were self-isolating, they could take a different paper at a later date.

However, there has been some scepticism of Ofqual’s suggestions. Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said “This sounds very difficult to manage at any scale, and it would surely be prudent to have a contingency plan in place based on some form of assessment in the autumn and spring term which could be used to reliably inform grades in the event that students are unable to sit exams.”

A delay to exams

The Government has also indicated that they may delay GCSE and A-level exams next year. Roger Taylor has said Ofqual is “very conscious of the enormous benefits that would come” from giving learners more time to prepare for their exams. However Julie Swan, Ofqual’s executive director for general qualifications, has said that a delay would mean the timetable would be shifted back, and teachers may not be willing to mark throughout the summer holidays. She also maintains that this is not a decision for Ofqual alone, "It needs to be taken with Wales and Northern Ireland; we need to have a common timetable”.

Current situation

Consultation is ongoing, with Ofqual's Julie Swan saying: “We absolutely recognise the need for some certainty and we are working with the Department for Education to try and get conclusions I would think within weeks rather than over a period of months.”

Functional skills

Ofqual has ruled out the use of centre-assessed grades to award vocational and technical qualifications again next year. The regulator ran a consultation on how to grade BTEC and other vocational learners, including functional skills learners, next year should Covid-19 continue to disrupt normal assessments.

Adapted assessment arrangements

The outcome of the consultation, published on the 7th of September, is that rather than using calculated results, awarding organisations will be able to adapt their assessment arrangements to mitigate any impact of the pandemic. This could include:

  • changing the way in which assessments are delivered, for example by using an online rather than paper-based test, or carrying out an assessment remotely rather than face-to-face
  • changing invigilation requirements, for example by allowing the use of online invigilation so that assessments can take place in a wider range of settings.

For an update on remote assessment and remote invigilation of functional skills, click here.

Current situation

Given the high level of agreement with the arrangements proposed in the consultation, Ofqual has decided to implement them in full, and has now produced a second draft extended Extraordinary Regulatory Framework which sets out the “regulatory arrangements and guidance with which awarding organisations must comply when adapting their qualifications”. 


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