Sign up to our monthly e-news update featuring the latest news, courses, resources & career opportunities / Subscribe now

Home » News » Exams and functional skills assessments in 2021

Exams and functional skills assessments in 2021

Maths , GCSE , Functional Skills , English , Assessment , Accreditation
Practice National Adult Literacy and Numeracy Tests

An update on the current situation regarding GCSE exams and functional skills 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 have 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 closes on the 29th of January 2021. You can find out more and respond to the consultation on the website

Functional skills

The consultation also considers 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. t is not yet clear what alternative arrangements will be in place for awarding grades. Read more

Further Information

No further information

Sign up for our e-News Update

You may also like

Skills for Life Network E-News Update February 2023

Skills for Life Network E-News Update March 2024

Check out the Skills for Life Network E-News Update March 2024 for a round up of what’s new and what’s happening in maths, English, ESOL and digital skills in the FE and Training sector.

GCSE maths resit

GCSE maths resit research trial expanded

The Education Endowment Foundation will expand its research to allow 160 extra teachers from FE colleges across the country to participate in trials of new teaching approaches that aim to improve GCSE maths resit pass rates.

Tenders update

Tenders Update March 2024

Take a look at Tenders Update March 2024 for an overview of the latest opportunities open to providers of services to the Essential Skills sector.

Maths and English resits

Qualification reform and maths and English resits

The Commission on post-16 education that has been looking into the impact of the government’s qualification reform at Levels 2 & 3 has published its report, in which it urges the government to review the requirements for maths and English resits.