Students look set to sit test papers for A-levels and GCSEs despite exams being cancelled

Harry Yorke
·4-min read
exams
exams
Coronavirus Article Bar with counter ..
Coronavirus Article Bar with counter ..

Students could still be asked to sit test papers under plans put forward by the exams regulator, amid calls to protect teachers awarding grades from a backlash from disappointed parents.

Ofqual on Friday confirmed plans to use teacher assessments to generate GCSE and A-level results this summer, with the watchdog proposing the use of exam papers to help them reach “objective decisions.”

It also suggests that students could receive their A-level and GCSE results in early July, more than a month before results are usually handed out in mid to late August.

The proposed timetable envisages teachers conducting assessments between May and early June, before submitting their grades to exam boards by the middle of June to undergo quality assurance.

It comes on the back of a week of confusion as to whether exams would still go ahead, following the Prime Minister’s announcement that schools would be forced to close again during the third lockdown.

After initially confirming that exams would be cancelled, Gavin Williamson, the Education Secretary, on Wednesday wrote to Ofqual asking it “explore the possibility of providing externally set tasks or papers".

Should students sit exams this year
Should students sit exams this year

Setting out a two-week consultation for how grades will be awarded, the regulator said that papers could be complemented with “guidance and training” from exam boards to support teachers when making their assessments.

Ofqual says papers set externally would help provide “consistency” between different schools and is seeking views on whether this should be mandatory, but alternatively suggests teachers could come up with their own.

The papers would form part of a “breadth of evidence” looked at by teachers, including coursework and other forms of assessment.

They may have to be completed in a student's home "if the pandemic makes it essential", it adds, but Ofqual is hopeful that students' performance will be able to be assessed within schools or colleges.

All students would retain the right to appeal their grades, under proposals put forward.

The publication was welcomed by ASCL and NAHT, the country’s two major head teachers' unions, who said external assessments would be of “significant benefit” and avoid a repeat of the exams fiasco last summer.

However, they expressed concern over the suggestion that appeals could be lodged with schools directly, describing it as “logistically very problematic.”

Their concerns were echoed by Bill Watkin, chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges Association, who called for “government protection” for teachers to ensure they are not “left exposed and vulnerable to undue pressure and challenge from candidates and their families at any stage in the awarding process.”

There are fears that making teachers part of the grading process could open them up to a wave of accusations of bias from disappointed parents, whose children they feel have been unduly marked down.

The subsequent flood of appeals could also lead to some teachers being inundated with paperwork, as they seek to justify their marks they have awarded.

On the other hand, there is concern about rampant grade inflation - as seen last summer - as well discrepancies in grading between different schools.

The unions have also urged the regulator and Education Secretary Gavin Williamson to give teachers “flexibility” to adapt assessments based on what they had been taught, adding: “a one size test will not fit all.”

They add that the assessments should take place “as late as possible” in the summer term and over a period of time similar to that set for exams in order to allow pupils to “maximise learning time” to catch up after months of disruption.

Ofqual’s consultation goes on to state that pupils should not be graded on what they could have achieved if the pandemic had not taken place but what they know, with teachers’ also potentially getting “some choice of topics” to reflect the fact that some content may not have been fully taught to covid-19 disruption.

However, the watchdog said it is seeking views on how wide-ranging papers should be and it is unclear yet as to how much weighting they would be given overall.

Mr Williamson said: "These proposals should give young people confidence that despite exams being cancelled, they will still receive a grade that reflects their ability.

"This is quite rightly an issue of great public interest and concern and it's important that those working in education alongside students, parents and employers are able to have their say."