2021 exam changes

Your go-to place for exam changes and teacher support this summer

Quality assurance

Guidance about the quality assurance process for GCSE, AS and A-level in summer 2021

This summer, with exams cancelled, the quality assurance (QA) process set out by Ofqual is different from the usual moderation process. This is a guide to what schools and colleges can expect.

We and the other exam boards are working together to support schools and colleges collectively with their quality assurance for this summer. The board supporting a school or college will depend on their centre number. Schools and colleges can see who their supporting exam board is on page 13 of the JCQ centre policy guide.

Ofqual has updated the information for heads of centre, heads of department and teachers on the submission of teacher assessed grades: summer 2021 to reflect the sampling requirements for schools and colleges, see pages 10 and 11.

We’ll publish quality assurance guidance for non-general qualifications as soon as possible.

Stage 1 - centre policies – deadline 30 April

Every school and college must set out its approach in a centre policy for internal quality assurance, as set out in the JCQ guidance.

To make sure that schools and colleges understand what’s expected and are on track to submit by the deadline we'll be calling our allocated schools and colleges to ask about key aspects of the centre policy.

Completed centre policies and the centre policy summary must be submitted through the JCQ Centre Admin Portal (CAP) by 30 April 2021.

We’ll review all of the summaries, and where there are concerns or questions about the summary or from the phone call, we’ll then review the full policy to see if more support is needed.

Stage 2 – virtual visits – May and June

We’ll contact the schools and colleges we’ve been allocated to let them know either that their policy has been accepted or that they will receive a virtual visit.

We’ll arrange a visit if we have questions or concerns about a school or college’s policy.

The aim of these visits is to make sure the appropriate arrangements in place for internal standardisation but the focus could be on any aspect of the centre policy.

Stage 3 – sampling of judgements – from week beginning 21 June

All grades must be submitted by 18 June and we’ll review all grades as part of our quality assurance. The grades will also be an important factor for us to use to target our review of judgements made by schools and colleges.

Provide samples of students’ work

Once the grades are received, every school and college will be asked to provide samples of student work.

Exam boards  will ask for evidence from at least:

  • one A-level subject
  • two GCSE subjects, one of which is likely to be either English language or maths.

For each subject, schools and colleges will need to provide all the evidence used to determine the grades of five students.

Schools and colleges that only offer A-levels or GCSEs will only be asked to submit work for those qualifications.

Which subjects and students will be selected

We’ll decide on the subjects and the students (selected from across the grade range, and potentially including private candidates where schools and colleges have accepted them). We’ll be in touch in the week beginning 21 June to let schools and colleges know which subjects and students have been selected.

How long schools have to respond

Ofqual has said, schools and colleges will need to submit this evidence within 48 hours of the request – so it's important that all evidence and records are in good order ahead of that date. Our subject experts will then review the evidence provided by a sample of schools and colleges.

Selection criteria and review of samples

Some of these will be picked at random, but making sure that the sample includes schools, colleges and other exam centre types, across all regions. They’ll also be selected based on other factors, including significant changes in entry patterns or where a schools and college is identified as needing additional support, for example because it’s a new exam centre.

We’ll compare a school or college’s results and select anywhere the proportion of grades in 2021 appears significantly higher or lower than results in previous years when exams took place – 2017, 2018 and 2019.

Results for individual subjects, especially those with small cohorts, can vary more from one year to the next. So, the comparison for schools and colleges will be made at qualification level – for all GCSE subjects combined and all A-level subjects combined.

How we’ll prioritise what's checked

We’ll prioritise quality assurance checks for schools and colleges where results are more out of line with their historical results than others, including where grades are lower.

This doesn’t mean schools and colleges can only award grades that closely match those in previous years, or that the information from previous years should be used to suppress results. There can be good reasons for results to vary from one year to the next, and schools and colleges should record the reasons for any substantial changes, in line with their centre policy. The quality assurance checks will focus on whether the range of evidence supports the grading judgments for those students.

After checks have taken place

If, after we’ve reviewed the work, we’ve got questions about how a school or college has made grading decisions, we’ll contact them.

Where we have serious concerns, we may ask for more work to be provided. And, in some cases, if the evidence doesn’t support the grades submitted, schools and colleges will be asked to reconsider their grades. We may want to discuss the school or college’s grading decisions. If we disagree with a grade, we can withhold results.

We’ll also carry out sampling for our non-general, vocational, technical and other qualifications once grades have been submitted. We’re still finalising our approach and will be in touch with confirmed arrangements soon. In the meantime, please continue to gather and keep any evidence used to determine the grades.


  • We’ve published information about how fees are being used this summer
  • Creating a range of evidence for your subject – videos and written guidance now available
  • Grade exemplifications now available in Get ready for grading – our comprehensive support programme for teachers
  • Assessment materials for summer 2021 available in Centre Services and Secure Key Materials
  • Ofqual guidance now available to help teachers make objective judgements
  • Schools should keep students' work to support quality assurance processes and appeals

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Contact our team

Exams officers can contact our customer services team by:

Tel: 0800 197 7162

+44 161 696 5995 outside the UK

Our opening hours are:

8am–5pm Monday to Friday

Parents and students should contact their school or college in the first instance.

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