From education to employment

Two Consultations launched on exam replacements in 2021: One for GCSE, AS and A Level and another for VTQ’s


Two Consultations have been launched for the 2021 exam replacements for how GCSE, AS and A level grades will be awarded and a separate consultation for VTQs and other general qualifications in 2021 

  • Teachers to provide students’ grades using a range of evidence that reflects students’ hard work and ability
  • Students would be assessed only on what they have learnt, to recognise the disruption caused by the pandemic
  • Students, employers and sector to give views on teacher assessment proposals in consultation launched today by Department for Education and Ofqual  

Students who were due to sit exams this summer will receive grades determined by teachers, as part of proposals published today (Friday 15 January) to maximise fairness and help young people progress to the next stage of their education or training.

Following the cancellation of this year’s summer exams, the Department for Education and Ofqual have launched a consultation seeking views on how to award grades in a way that reflects students’ performance accurately recognising the disruption they have faced this year. 

Grades will be based on teacher assessment, with teachers supported in making decisions with guidance and training from exam boards. 

The consultation will consider the range of evidence teachers use to award a grade, which could include coursework, other forms of assessment and papers provided by exam boards, to support consistency and fairness across schools and colleges.

The proposals ensure students are given the opportunity to demonstrate the standard at which they can perform and incentivise them to continue learning throughout the rest of the academic year. 

The consultation will also seek views on results being issued to students earlier than usual to allow enough time for appeals to be processed ahead of the start of the new term. 

The government has been clear that while cancelling exams was a last resort, it remains committed to ensuring that students receive a grade that reflects their hard work throughout the year and supports them to progress through their careers. 

Gavin Williamson 100x100Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: 

“Fairness to young people has been and will continue to be fundamental to every decision we take on these issues, and I’m determined that despite all the challenges posed by this pandemic, they will not prevent students getting on with and making a success of their lives. 

“These proposals should give young people confidence that despite exams being cancelled, they will still receive a grade that reflects their ability. This is quite rightly an issue of great public interest and concern and it’s important that those working in education alongside students, parents and employers are able to have their say.”

Simon Lebus 100x100Interim Chief Regulator Simon Lebus said: 

“We know that everyone wants clarity on the way ahead quickly. Above all, we need to support students to carry on with their education for the remainder of the academic year.

“Students and learners will carry with them for the rest of their lives the grades they are given on the basis of these arrangements, so we must make sure they are as fair as they can be in these difficult circumstances.”

The consultation asks whether externally set papers should be mandatory or optional for schools and colleges. Where they are used, they would form only one part of a teacher’s wider assessment of a student. 

Students should be assessed on what they have learnt, rather than against content they have not had a chance to study. There are proposals to give teachers flexibility to choose the papers they use for assessment based on the areas of the curriculum their students have covered.  

Teachers’ assessments would be subject to quality assurance checks by exam boards. 

A range of options for private candidates to be assessed and make sure they receive a grade are also part of considerations. 

Similar alternative arrangements are proposed for students taking vocational and technical qualifications, such as BTECs and Cambridge Technicals, to ensure students are treated fairly and are equally able to progress. For qualifications where a practical demonstration of skills is needed, assessments would continue to be able to take place. 

The consultation builds on of months of joint contingency planning between the Department and Ofqual and sets out the government’s position in making sure young people receive a grade that reflects their ability and lets them progress. 

During this period of national lockdown strengthened remote education expectations are in place, with schools expected to provide a set number of hours of high-quality remote education for pupils. Schools, colleges and young people are supported by deliveries of laptops and tablets for those who need them most, with the Government now providing 1.3 million devices, and work to make sure families have the mobile and internet data they need to access key education sites. 

Vocational qualifications with written exams scheduled in February and March, will not go ahead as planned, alternative arrangements will be put in place.

Sector Response to the 2021 exam replacement Consultation 

tom bewick 100x100Tom Bewick, Chief Executive of the Federation of Awarding Bodies (FAB) said:

“FAB welcomes this joint consultation from Ofqual and the DfE. This more joined up approach will give the sector extra confidence that government policy is being better aligned with the regulations necessary to progress every learner this summer or issue them with a fair set of valid and reliable results.

“It is also welcome to see that Ofqual wishes to ensure consistency and fairness between academic and vocational learners, including private candidates, although a lot of fine detail is still yet to be worked through. The key thing to remember is that Awarding Organisations have learnt a great deal in terms of implementing the existing Extended Extraordinary Regulatory Framework; so we are looking to Ofqual to help build on that approach. There is no evidence, for example, of major grade inflation as a result of VTQs being awarded using this existing framework since the pandemic began. Similarly, exam boards are well equipped to ensure a fair model of teacher assessed grades, in what remains, unprecedented circumstances.”

david hughes 100 x100David Hughes, Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges (AoC) said:

“We welcome both consultations on the approach to awarding grades in the summer and recognise the efforts being made to ensure that all qualifications and all students will be treated fairly and at the same time. A coherent framework is crucial to ensure colleges and those due to take exams this year have confidence and are clear about the processes for teacher-based and other assessments in the coming months.

 “The consultations cover complex ground and we will work with members to provide a full response to help get this all to work as well as it possibly can. Our over-arching worry though is that the issue of differential lost learning will remain challenging throughout this year and beyond. This is particularly true of students on competency based courses where hands-on training is needed but it affects learners across the whole cohort. There is no simple answer or quick fix, but particularly for those disadvantaged by digital poverty we urge the government to fund the catch up support many students will need. 

“We support the need for a short consultation because it should help DfE and Ofqual reach decisions quickly to put students’ minds at rest and help colleges plan for the rest of the academic year. The short timescale will be challenging for colleges and other providers but I am confident that they will want to both digest and consider the proposals fully. We will continue to work closely with Ofqual and DfE to ensure that colleges are confident that the arrangements for summer 2021 are fair, consistent and give their students the opportunity to succeed.”

NAHT comments on consultation on how grades should be awarded in 2021 

Paul Whiteman 100x100Commenting as Ofqual publishes its consultation on how exam grades should be awarded this year, Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said:

“We are pleased to finally see the publication of the consultation on arrangements for awarding qualifications this summer, but almost two weeks have already passed since the announcement that exams are cancelled. Students, parents and teachers need to know quickly what will influence their final grades to prepare effectively and to maintain high levels of motivation and engagement in learning.

“Our members are clear that they want to maximise learning time and ensure the learning experience given to all students will help them prepare for their next steps. To allow for this, final assessments must take place as late as possible in the summer term, in June when exams were due to take place, and over a period of time which does not put unreasonable pressure onto students.

“The idea of externally set assessments could be of significant benefit. The evidence base which schools and colleges have to assess students is much smaller than last year. The current Year 11 and Year 13 have had significant disruption across both years of their courses and they have had a maximum of 15 weeks face to face teaching since March 2020. But it is absolutely vital that teachers are given the flexibility to adapt these assessments to assess students on what they have been taught; a one size test will not fit all.

“We are concerned about the proposed processes for appeals. The suggestion that initial appeals are made directly to the school or college is misguided in principle, and logistically very problematic.

“Whatever process is finally put in place by Ofqual, it needs to withstand the worst-case scenario that all students are not back in school or college for face to face teaching after February half term.”


Dr Patrick Roach 100x100Commenting on the publication of the joint Department for Education/Ofqual consultation on replacement arrangements for summer exams, Dr Patrick Roach, General Secretary of the NASUWT-The Teachers’ Union, said:

“After the necessary but belated decision to cancel exams this summer, teachers, school leaders and learners have been waiting anxiously for further details of what will be established in their place. It was always inevitable that some form of centre assessment process would be identified as the only possible option and this aspect of the proposals is therefore not surprising.

“The NASUWT will consider the proposals on both general and vocational/technical qualifications carefully and will submit constructive responses to  both consultations. However, it is clear that the cancellation of examinations and the disruption caused by the public health crisis will mean difficult trade-offs and there are no easy or perfect solutions.

“There are important choices for the Government and the regulator to make. It is vital that the government recognises that teachers and school and college leaders are already working under extraordinary pressure and any solution that fails to address this fact will not be deliverable nor allow candidates to benefit from assessments that are fair in practice. This will be of particular importance in relation to internal and external quality assurance measures, as well as the time available to centres to undertake and complete assessments.

“It is incumbent on the DfE and Ofqual to make clear to schools and colleges that they will need to provide teachers and school leaders with the time and space they will require to familiarise themselves with the arrangements and to implement them effectively.  Teachers and school leaders must also be assured that they will be given unambiguous and objective criteria against which to assess candidates so that students and centres can be sure about the basis on which grades will be awarded.

“It remains the case that some candidates, including those who have been subject to the most disruption and those who are most vulnerable, have been especially adversely impacted by the pandemic. It is essential that all possible steps are taken to ensure that progression to further and higher education and employment pathways remains open for those young people whose studies have been the most impacted by the pandemic.”

KevinCourtney100x100Commenting on the launch of the Department for Education’s consultation on the awarding of exam grades, Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:    

“There are still many questions left unanswered on the publication of this consultation. In some ways that is a good thing as it means education staff, students and parents can have their say on which options to take. But these conversations should have been taking place last year as it was obvious to all, except Gavin Williamson, that we needed to plan for this possibility. Many more options would have been available if plans had been made earlier, and teachers and students must not be held to blame for the failings of government.    

“NEU members and students may well be reassured by the idea of externally created papers and questions, but unless these papers have flexibility – to ensure that students only answer questions on topics they have covered – then they will not produce fair results.    

“It is also imperative that these papers do not form the sum total of the evidence upon which decisions about grades can be based. It will be far more accurate to base grades on a range of evidence and if government is genuine about trusting teachers then they will allow them as professionals, to determine what evidence is best to use.    

“There seems to be large question marks around the suggested appeals process and we will need to explore this further. Whilst government may be clear that they wish students to have an appeal route it would be utterly wrong for them to shift the strain of this onto schools and colleges because of the fact they themselves haven’t prepared earlier in the year for proper external moderation.    

“We welcome that written exams for VTQs will be paused from April onwards, which takes a lot of the pressure off BTEC and Cambridge National students and gives more certainty for them. It is also important that where practical assessments can take place for occupational competency, they should, if it’s safe. Because of the complexity of different vocational and technical awards, their different purposes and assessment methods, it is even more obvious that government has left thinking about this until too late in the day. Suggesting that awarding organisations should now be developing an approach to awarding qualifications where there is insufficient evidence is too little too late, and is letting down students and their teachers.”   

Related Articles