How grades were awarded without exams

As a result of Ofqual’s decision on 17 August, students received centre assessment grades if they were higher than their calculated grades.

Where we issued calculated grades, we used a new standardisation process outlined by Ofqual. This process was applied to students entered for all our qualifications this summer, though there was some necessary variation for modular qualifications.

Step 1: Schools provided information

Schools and colleges provided the following information to their exam board:

  • centre assessment grade for each student
  • rank order of students within each grade.

Centre assessment grades

The centre assessment grade is the teacher's professional judgement of the most likely grade a student would have achieved if exams had gone ahead.

It was based on a range of evidence including mock exams, non-exam assessment, homework assignments and any other record of student performance over the course of study.

For tiered subjects, the centre assessment grade reflected each student’s tier of entry. For example: 9 to 3 for higher tier and 5 to 1, or U, for foundation tier.

Rank order

Schools then created a rank order of all students within each grade, for every subject.

This might be all students at Grade 5 in GCSE Maths or at Grade B in A-level Biology.

They were then ranked from highest to lowest – where student 1 is the most secure at that grade, student 2 the next most secure, and so on.

This included both higher and foundation tier students. Higher tier students did not need to be ranked above foundation tier students. Teachers may have judged, for example, that a foundation tier student with a centre assessment grade of 4 should be ranked above a higher tier student with the same centre assessment grade.

Sign off by Head of Centre

All grades and rank orders were then signed off internally before coming to us.

  • Two subject teachers needed to sign off the centre assessment grade, one of whom should be the Head of Department.
  • The Head of Centre would then have signed off the centre assessment grade and the rank order, declaring the information is accurate and represents their professional judgement.

If the Head of Centre was not available, they would’ve delegated this to a deputy.

Step 2: Exams boards standardised

After receiving the centre assessment grades and rank orders, we standardised across all schools and colleges to make the process fair for everyone.

We used evidence such as prior attainment and national level grade distributions so that final grades were aligned across all schools and colleges, and of equal value to previous years. This made sure that students were treated fairly if some schools were more generous than others when making their judgements.

Based on this, individual grades may have been adjusted upwards or downwards. This means that the final grade awarded to a student could be different from the one their school or college sent to us.

Find out more about how we've standardised grades.


Further information on what this means for appeals will follow from Ofqual, and we’ll update our website as soon as we can.

Private candidates

Private candidates were included in the centre assessment grades submitted by schools and colleges, where the Head of Centre was confident that they and their staff had seen enough evidence of the student’s achievement to make an objective judgement.

Private candidates who studied with distance learning providers which are also approved exam centres were also be able to receive a calculated grade.

Where private candidates didn’t have an existing relationship with their centre – or a distance learning provider registered as a centre – we issued guidance to schools and colleges about the available options. Private candidates that didn’t receive a calculated grade or are unhappy with their result, will need to take exams in the autumn to get their grades instead.