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Coverage of this briefing

This briefing looks at the awarding of qualifications in summer 2021, in the context of the coronavirus pandemic. It mostly covers England, but has some information on Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It also provides background information on qualification awarding in the summer of 2020.

Awarding in summer 2021

The Government has announced that GCSE, AS and A Level exams won’t go ahead in England in summer 2021. Originally, the plan was for exams to take place, albeit with most slightly delayed. Exams in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in the summer of 2021 have also been cancelled. Some students were due to take vocational exams and assessments – for example, BTECs – at the beginning of the spring 2021 term, in England. The DfE confirmed that these could go ahead where schools or colleges judge this to be in students’ best interests.

How will students get their grades?

In the new year, exam regulator for England, Ofqual, and the DfE, jointly consulted on awarding arrangements, and confirmed the plans on Thursday 25 February. For GCSEs, AS and A Levels, students will be awarded their grades based on teacher and lecturer assessment. This assessment is expected to take a range of evidence into account, for example, work completed, and any relevant mock exam results. Results from optional question papers supplied by exam boards can also be used.

The arrangements for vocational and technical qualifications (VTQs) differ depending on the nature and purpose of courses and awards.

Similar alternative arrangements are also being used to award students undertaking qualifications regulated by Ofqual’s equivalent bodies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Examinations and awarding in summer 2020

When exams were cancelled in summer 2020, all UK nations planned to use centre assessment followed by statistical adjustment to issue grades. However, this approach proved highly controversial, with reports that some students had been “downgraded”. Students in all four UK nations eventually received calculated grades based on teacher and lecturer judgements, or the statistically adjusted grade, if higher.

In England, nearly all Centre Assessed Grades (CAGs) that were changed were adjusted downwards. More CAGs were adjusted down in FE colleges and least in independent schools. The final results showed an increase in top grades at A level and GCSE, particularly in independent and grammar schools. The smallest increases in top grades were in FE colleges.


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