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What exams could look like in 2021 – Ofqual consultations launched

Following the cancellation of exams, Sylvia King, Senior Education Lead at SSAT, unpicks the recent announcements on awarding grades in 2021

‘Consultation, consultation, consultation’ as a former PM might have said

On Friday 15 January, Ofqual and DfE launched consultations on both academic (A, AS GCSE Consultation) qualifications and vocational (VTQ and General consultation). They also extended the deadline for the consultations regarding funding for both Level 2 – 14 Feb 2021 and Level 3 – 31 Jan 2021 vocational qualifications.

The assessment consultations are open for two weeks with submissions being due by 29 January 2021 at 23.45. These are hefty documents (45 pages and 68 questions for the A, AS and GCSE documents!) but don’t be put off, the response form is mainly multiple-choice responses with spaces after each section to allow further comment.

The A, AS and GCSE consultation proposes that students continue their education as best they can this academic year and then:

  • are assessed by their teachers in a period beginning in May into early June
  • teachers submit internally moderated grades to the exam boards by mid-June
  • external quality assurance by the exam boards is ongoing throughout June
  • results are issued to students once the QA process is complete, most likely in early July
  • student appeals could be submitted immediately following the issue of results and would first be considered by schools and colleges.
In-school support and delivery – Available online

You might want to think about a variety of issues here, timing for example. Appeals ‘first considered’ by schools in early July may be all very well but just what that process would require, evidence needed etc and when it will be completed are the issues that will matter

For vocational qualifications, the consultation covers a wide range of VTQ and general qualifications but clarifies that “From April onwards, written exams for vocational and technical qualifications that are taken instead of, or alongside, GCSEs, AS and A-levels should not take place. Alternative arrangements will be put in place to award these results”, meaning the summer exams will be cancelled. In some ways, this is a more difficult consultation for you in schools and colleges as a number of the qualifications are relatively unfamiliar so it’s well worth ploughing through to make sure that your voice is heard.

As the style of consultation is heavily weighted to a multiple-choice approach, it’s worth noting the importance of using the full scale. For example, Question 1 asks ‘To what extent do you agree or disagree that the grades awarded to students in 2021 should reflect the standard at which they are performing?’ with a 5-point scale ranging from ‘strongly agree’ to ‘strongly disagree’ – don’t be afraid to use the extremes as the middle 3 answers are likely to be ‘clustered’ when analysing the data. Just a thought, I read this to mean that, despite missing perhaps two full terms in school, students should be assessed in ‘real time’ without taking account of this; ie assessed on what they are achieving at the time of the assessment rather than what they would be capable of achieving if their KS4/5 had not been severely disrupted. That’s a big difference, possibly made bigger as the assessment is likely to be criterion referenced.

Also, when considering your responses, it might be helpful to revisit Alex Gavin’s blog Trust in teachers not algorithms which reviews the underlying principles that SSAT believe should underpin any arrangements for awarding qualifications in 2021.

Money, money, money

Having had to plough through all of this it would be easy to miss the importance of the consultations on funding! I’d strongly advise schools with sixth forms to take note of these proposals which would remove funding for most L2 and L3 general vocational qualifications (BTECs, OCR Nationals etc.). In short, the proposal is that students taking a vocational route would be better served by taking the more occupationally focused technical qualifications which will be difficult, if not impossible, to resource in a school setting.

This is such a busy time for all schools, but to ensure that our students get the best and most equitable life chances as they progress, it’s imperative that our school voices are heard; and that systems are not hurriedly imposed on them that further disadvantage the very students who have already been hardest hit by the impact of the pandemic.

Let’s also not forget the fortunate few who have not been as severely affected, they deserve a robust accurate system too!

Get involved

Share your views on arrangements for awarding grades for GCSE, AS and A-levels and a range of vocational and technical qualifications.

In-school support and delivery – Available online

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