Although to many it may feel that the summer exam period has only just passed, the Department for Education and Ofqual have been looking ahead to next summer’s GCSE, AS and A-Level exams.
In recognition of the impact that the Covid-19 pandemic has had on the education of this year group, adaptations will be made to exams next summer. It is hoped that the adaptions will help students to achieve their full potential, despite the events which have unfolded since the beginning of the pandemic.
Both the Department for Education and Ofqual recognise that a significant amount of educational disruption has been suffered due to the pandemic. Therefore, there is a need for exams to be adapted whilst continuing to ensure that they remain the fairest form of assessment.
Following a public consultation which garnered over 6,000 responses, with almost a quarter coming from students themselves, it became clear that there was a preference for certain adaptations. More than 90% of students and parents are in favour of being given advance information of exam topics, and around 80% agreeing with offering choices of topics. With this in mind, the Department for Education and Ofqual have confirmed that the following key adaptations will be made:
- For all GCSE, AS and A-Level subjects (except GCSE English literature, history, ancient history, and geography), by 7 February 2022 students will be provided with advance information about the content of the exams
- In GCSE English literature, history, ancient history and geography, students will be given a choice of topics and content rather than advance notice of focus of content
- Students will be given a formulae sheet for GCSE maths and a revised equation sheet covering all the equations required for GCSE physics and combined science
- In respect of GCSE, AS and A-Level art and design, students will only be assessed on their portfolio
- In GCSE biology, chemistry, physics, combined science, geology and astronomy, AS level biology, chemistry, physics and geology, and AS and A-Level environmental science, centres will be allowed to deliver practical work by demonstration
- In A-Level biology, chemistry, physics and geology, centres will be able to assess the Common Practical Assessment Criteria (CPAC) across the minimum number of practical activities required to enable students to demonstrate their competence
- Exam boards can carry out remote monitoring of how the CPAC is applied
In addition, Ofqual has set out the approach which it will take to grading, having seen a higher proportion of students achieving top grades in the last two years. To mark what is seen as a ‘recovery period’, next year will be a transitionary year. Grade boundaries will reflect a midway point between 2019 and 2021. The aim is that more students will be able to receive higher grades next year than pre-pandemic, providing a safety net for students as well as a step back to normality, with results expected to return to the usual grade profile by the following year.
Is this the end of teacher assessed grades (TAGs)?
Whilst the adaptations demonstrate that both the Department for Education and Ofqual are striving for normality, with teachers focusing on preparing students for exams which have been adapted to achieve a level of fairness, it cannot be ignored that the pandemic is not yet over. Therefore, if exams cannot go ahead as hoped, proposals are in place for teacher assessed grades to return for the summer 2022 exam period if necessary.
Schools should ensure that they are prepared for these adaptations. Given that advance notice of the focus of exam topics will be provided by 7 February 2022, teachers can adapt their teaching in the second half of the spring term if necessary. This will ensure that students are best positioned to achieved top grades.
The Department for Education will also retain the flexibility for advance information to be deployed at other points ahead of 7 February 2022, if circumstances require. We have been reassured that at least a week’s notice will be given if it is decided that advance information will be released early. Schools should therefore be aware that adaptations to teaching may be possible ahead of February.