2021 exam changes

Your go-to place for exam changes and teacher support in 2021 and beyond

What it means: summer 2021 consultation decisions explained

Published:Friday 26 Feb 2021

Following on from our information yesterday, our teams have now digested the summer 2021 decisions for GCSE, AS and A-levels, and Vocational, Technical and other qualifications (VTQs).

It’s been confirmed that students will receive grades determined by schools and colleges; students will only be assessed on what they’ve been taught and no algorithm will be used.

Here’s some clarity on how grades will be awarded this summer. We want to make this as easy as we can for schools and colleges, so we also have some details about what we’ll be doing to help everyone navigate this summer’s approach to assessment.

GCSEs, AS and A-levels

Assessment and evidence

  • Teachers need to assess their students’ performance - based only on what has been taught   to determine the grade each student should receive.
  • Teachers can use evidence of a student’s performance from throughout the course to inform their judgement.
  • Schools and colleges should use a broad range of evidence for each student, for each subject studied, to determine their individual grades before submitting them to us.
  • Teachers should determine the grades as late in the academic year as possible, and not confined to a defined window, to enable teaching to continue for as long as possible. The deadline for submitting grades will be 18 June 2021.
  • Heads of centres will need to confirm that students have been taught sufficient content to allow progression to the next stage of their education in the subjects to be studied. Without this declaration it won’t be possible to award a grade. They’ll also need to declare that the requirements for internal quality assurance have been met.
  • Students should continue to work on their non-exam assessment (NEA), including for Project qualifications. NEA will be marked by teachers and will contribute to the overall grade, whether or not it’s been completed. We won’t need to moderate it.
  • Private candidates will be able to work with a school or college to receive a grade this year alongside their own students. We’ll give you clear guidance on the evidence you can use to assess a private candidate.

Support materials from AQA

  • We’ll provide schools and colleges with a support package of materials including questions and their mark schemes, grouped by topic, data about how students typically performed in individual questions and example materials to illustrate different performance levels. We’ll also advise teachers about content coverage, topic selection, marking and making grading judgements. Materials will be based on past questions and will also include a proportion of questions for every subject that haven’t previously been publicly released.
  • Teachers will be able to use the support materials as soon as we’ve published them and until the deadline for the submission of grades. Our aim is to publish these by the end of March.
  • Using our support materials isn’t compulsory; they’ll just form part of the range of evidence teachers could use to determine the grade.

Quality assurance

  • We’ll work really closely with the other exam boards to make sure that requirements for internal quality assurance and arrangements for external quality assurance are consistent.
  • Schools' or colleges' internal quality assurance arrangements will need to include consideration of their profile of results in previous years as a guide to help check that judgements aren’t unduly harsh or lenient.
  • It’s really important that schools and colleges document the process they followed to ensure the judgements being made are fair, consistent, evidence-based, and minimise the risk of bias and discrimination. As well as good practice, this documentation will also be required as part of the external quality assurance we’ll need to undertake this year.

Results days, post-results and appeals

  • The Government has decided that results days will be on 10 August 2021 for AS and A-level, and 12 August 2021 for GCSE results.
  • Students will be able to appeal their grade.
    • A student who is unhappy with their grade should first ask their school or college to check whether there’s been an administrative or procedural error.
    • If a school or college does find an error in the grade submitted to us, schools can submit a revised grade and a rationale for us to consider. If we’re satisfied with the rationale, we’ll issue a revised grade.
    • If a school or college doesn’t believe an error had been made, a student can then ask their school to submit an appeal to us on their behalf. This will include the evidence on which the judgement had been made; we’ll then consider whether, in our view, the grade reflected a reasonable and appropriate exercise of academic judgement. If we feel it didn’t, we’ll determine the grade that the evidence would support. We’ll also make sure that the school or college followed its own process.

Vocational, Technical and other qualifications

We’ve been working hard with the DfE, Ofqual and all other exam boards to make sure the decisions for Vocational, Technical and other qualifications are as fair as possible, but one size doesn’t fit all for these qualifications. It’s also important to remember that context is different to last year and so the approach for this year needs to reflect that.
As always our principles for our Vocational, Technical and other non-general qualifications are to align with GCSEs, AS and A-levels where possible and, for the majority of the decisions, they do. This includes our project qualifications – including the Extended Project Qualification.

Here are a few things we want to point out so you’re clear on what it means:

Which subjects are included?

Some VTQs are out of scope of alternative arrangements this summer which means that there will still need to be assessments for these qualifications. In the case of Functional Skills Qualifications, it’s been confirmed that exams and assessments should continue in line with public health measures, but with alternative arrangements available for those who can’t access the assessments in exceptional circumstances. This is because the DfE and Ofqual feel it’s necessary for students to demonstrate their skills for these qualifications. We’re working closely with Ofqual to confirm our plans for these qualifications and we’ll be back in touch as soon as we know more.

All other AQA non-general qualifications are in scope of alternative arrangements, which means grades will be determined by teachers, just like GCSEs, AS and A-levels.

Assessment and evidence

Teachers for VTQs and non-general qualifications will also be assessing student performance, using a range of evidence available to them to determine the grade each student should achieve. The evidence used may vary from GCSEs and A-levels, and it will also include banked evidence for VTQs.

Students should continue to work on their NEA and internal assessments, which will be marked by teachers. Just as with GCSEs, AS and A-levels, it will contribute to the overall grade, whether or not it’s been completed. We won’t need to moderate it, or for Tech-level units, complete EQA verification before teachers submit the grades. Quality assurance for VTQs will be the same as it will be for GCSEs, AS and A-levels.

Results days

Our Level 3 vocational qualifications (Applied General and Tech Levels) will have the same results days as AS and A-levels on 10 August 2021. For Level 2 learners, results day will be the same as for GCSEs on 12 August 2021.

Support materials for VTQs

VTQs and non-general qualifications will also receive a support package of materials. These may vary in content from the package for GCSEs, AS and A-levels as in some cases, past papers and topic selection may not be applicable or relevant.

There are further technical and regulatory consultations Ofqual is running on General Qualifications and Vocational, Technical and Other Qualifications, which we’re responding to. We’ll be back in touch when the decisions are published to update you on what they mean for you.

We’re here to support you this summer

We want to make sure schools and colleges are confident in the grades they’re delivering this summer, and that they’re a fair and consistent reflection of students’ knowledge and performance.

Our teams of assessment experts are here to help and support teachers through the process, not only with the support and resources we’ve outlined above, but also to answer your questions and give teachers the opportunity to share their thoughts and experience with other teachers. We’ll stay in touch to help keep you on track with what you need to do this summer.

We know that students and parents will also have questions. They should continue to speak to their schools and colleges, and as always, can contact us for more information.

See all 2021 exam changes

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