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Arrangements for exams which have been cancelled to fight spread of coronavirus – Sector Response

#CoronaCrisis @Ofqual – Further details on exams and grades announced

The exam regulator, Ofqual, and exam boards will work with teachers to provide grades to students whose exams have been cancelled this summer, following our actions to slow the spread of coronavirus.

University representatives have confirmed that they expect universities to be flexible and do all they can to support students and ensure they can progress to higher education.

This year’s summer exam series, including A levels, GCSEs and other qualifications, and all primary assessments, have been cancelled as we fight to stop the spread of coronavirus.

The Government’s priority is now to ensure affected students can move on as planned to the next stage of their lives, including going into employment, starting university, college or sixth form courses, or an apprenticeship in the autumn.

This means ensuring GCSE, A and AS level students are awarded a grade which fairly reflects the work that they have put in. There will also be an option to sit an exam early in the next academic year for students who wish to.Ofqual will develop and set out a process that will provide a calculated grade to each student which reflects their performance as fairly as possible, and will work with the exam boards to ensure this is consistently applied for all students. The exam boards will be asking teachers, who know their students well, to submit their judgement about the grade that they believe the student would have received if exams had gone ahead.

To produce this, teachers will take into account a range of evidence and data including performance on mock exams and non-exam assessment – clear guidance on how to do this fairly and robustly this will be provided to schools and colleges. The exam boards will then combine this information with other relevant data, including prior attainment, and use this information to produce a calculated grade for each student, which will be a best assessment of the work they have put in.

Ofqual and exam boards will be discussing with teachers’ representatives before finalising an approach, to ensure that it is as fair as possible. More information will be provided as soon as possible.

The aim is to provide these calculated grades to students before the end of July. In terms of a permanent record, the grades will be indistinguishable from those provided in other years. We will also aim to ensure that the distribution of grades follows a similar pattern to that in other years, so that this year’s students do not face a systematic disadvantage as a consequence of these extraordinary circumstances.

We recognise that some students may nevertheless feel disappointed that they haven’t been able to sit their exams. If they do not believe the correct process has been followed in their case they will be able to appeal on that basis. In addition, if they do not feel their calculated grade reflects their performance, they will have the opportunity to sit an exam at the earliest reasonable opportunity, once schools are open again. Students will also have the option to sit their exams in summer 2021.

There is a very wide range of different vocational and technical qualifications as well as other academic qualifications for which students were expecting to sit exams this summer. These are offered by a large number of awarding organisations, and have differing assessment approaches – in many cases students will already have completed modules or non-exam assessment which could provide evidence to award a grade. We are encouraging these organisations to show the maximum possible flexibility and pragmatism to ensure students are not disadvantaged. Ofqual is working urgently with the sector to explore options and we will work with them to provide more details shortly.

The Government will not publish any school or college level educational performance data based on tests, assessments or exams for 2020.

Sector Response

Gavin Williamson 100x100Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said:

“Cancelling exams is something no Education Secretary would ever want to do, however these are extraordinary times and this measure is a vital but unprecedented step in the country’s efforts to stop the spread of coronavirus.

“My priority now is to ensure no young person faces a barrier when it comes to moving onto the next stage of their lives – whether that’s further or higher education, an apprenticeship or a job.

“I have asked exam boards to work closely with the teachers who know their pupils best to ensure their hard work and dedication is rewarded and fairly recognised.”

ofqual 100x100A spokesperson for Ofqual said:

“We welcome the further information and clarity the Department for Education has outlined today to award students a calculated grade for their GCSEs, AS and A levels this summer, and to provide an exam option for those that wish it as soon as is reasonably possible after schools reopen.

“We are working tirelessly to support students affected by these unprecedented and difficult circumstances and to develop, quickly, a fair and consistent process. We know that schools and colleges urgently need to know what they will need to do, and when.

“Work is already underway with exam boards and teachers’ representatives to develop our proposals and we will provide more detail in the coming days.”

Michelle Donelan 100x100Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan, said:

“We want to assure students that grades will be equally as valid as those in previous years, and their hard work will be rewarded and fairly recognised. There is no reason for the usual admissions cycle to be disrupted.

“I am pleased Universities UK has confirmed institutions will be flexible and do all they can to support students to progress to higher education.”

angela rayner thumbnailAngela Rayner MP, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, said:

“Hard working students rightly want a fair mark for their work and deserve more clarity and leadership than we’re getting from the government, which all too often during this crisis seems to be a step behind what is needed.

“We have always said predicted grades are not always accurate, and can disproportionately affect the children who need the most support, and we pushed ministers to ensure students can sit an exam later if they wish.

“Labour is writing to the Education Secretary for more details. It is crucial that pupils, teachers and parents know what the action plan is.”

MarkDawe 100x100Association of Employment and Learning Providers chief executive Mark Dawe said:

“We want to see the same treatment applied to Functional Skills, i.e. it should be left to the tutor as to when the learner has achieved competency.”



tom bewick100x100Tom Bewick, Chief Executive of the Federation of Awarding Bodies (FAB) comments:

“FAB welcomes the fact that the Secretary of State, Gavin Williamson, has moved swiftly to clarify the arrangements for the cancelled summer examinations (General Qualifications).

“However, there is still a significant amount of work to be done to finalise how we best assess over 1 million learners studying vocational technical qualifications (VTQs) and completing apprenticeships.”

“We would encourage Ministers and Ofqual to be equally as responsive in agreeing how VTQ students will be assessed through the difficulties caused by coronavirus. That should include a comprehensive plan for how apprentices will be assessed for occupational competence, as well as those doing vocational courses.”

“We also need to urgently agree with the government the financial support that End-Point Assessment Organisations (EPAOs) will need during a period where apprenticeship starts are likely to come to a halt.”

Nansi Ellis 400x400Nansi Ellis, Assistant General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:

“We welcome this announcement from Government. Teachers are trained to assess their students and already do so throughout the year. Evidence shows teacher-assessed grads are reliable and valid.

“We expect to work closely with government on further detail to make this as fair as possible for all involved.”

kirstie donnelly 100x100Calling for urgent clarity on skills system and apprenticeships, Kirstie Donnelly MBE, CEO of City & Guilds Group said:

“The school closures announced this week have created even more uncertainty, in what is already a hugely difficult time. We are all saddened by the news reports that young people will be unable to take crucial exams this summer that will help determine their futures, while university students will equally experience disruption to their lives. We know the Government will, rightly, do all it can to shore up our Education system that we take so much pride in. 

“But we have heard very little about our crucial skills system. The very system that every year reliably trains over a million people, including hundreds of thousands of apprentices, as well as technical and skilled workers, all of whom the economy, employers and our country rely upon. No more so than at times like these.

“From plumbers, to electricians, delivery drivers to customer service helplines, all these crucial skills – and so much more – exist because of an established quality network of skills provision, and a FE system that works hard to provide invaluable education and training.

“It’s critical that we get clear Government direction and urgent assurance for continued funding and support for these other learners and institutions – whether to help apprentices complete their programmes and to protect learners on full-time FE courses and adults on funded training courses.

“FE and skills are a vital part of our total education and training sector, and we’re asking that the Government shows it the same respect we show to schools and HE.”

peter lampl100x100Sir Peter Lampl, founder and Chairman of the Sutton Trust, said:

“Predicted grades are inaccurate in the vast majority of cases, and particularly disadvantage high-attaining poorer students.  So it is welcome that the Department for Education has introduced a combination of methods to award qualifications, which should mitigate some of the uncertainty of predicted grades.

“However, coursework has declined as a result of recent A-level reforms and so there will not be as much information available from this as in previous years.

“While all teachers want the best for their students, teacher assessments can unconsciously disadvantage those from poorer backgrounds.

“In these extraordinary times it is crucial that universities make greater use of contextual admissions.  They need to think very carefully about increasing the emphasis given to personal statements, as these generally favour more advantaged students.

“There are no easy solutions to this unprecedented situation. But what is of upmost importance is that all students – including the poorest – leave school with qualifications that fairly reflect their achievements.”

nicola dandridge100x100Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of the Office for Students, said:

“The Secretary of State’s statement provides useful and important information, which should offer reassurance for students during what is an exceptionally challenging time. It is essential that A-level students are fairly assessed on their academic attainment.

“We want to assure those students that their grades will be equally valid to those in previous years, and their hard work will be rewarded and fairly recognised.

“We are working with universities, colleges and UCAS to ensure that students are supported throughout this unique admissions cycle, and made aware of their higher education course options. Particular consideration will need to be given to students from disadvantaged backgrounds to ensure that their potential is properly recognised as the new system is rolled out.

“Some universities and colleges have in recent days reportedly been making unconditional offers that may not be in students’ best interests. We are today asking that all universities and colleges pause unconditional or other offers that could disadvantage students given today’s reassurances there is no reason to depart from the normal admissions processes. All universities and colleges should work to put the student’s interest first.”

David Barnard, CEO, Resonance said:

“It’s a real shame when students have been working so hard, but I want to assure anyone looking to come onto our courses that the most important thing for us is their attitude, talent and determination. 

“Students need two A levels or equivalent to start our degree courses, but everyone has a personal audition or interview and that is equally, if not more important than academic qualifications.”

Juliana Mohamad Noor 100x100Juliana Mohamad Noor, Vice-President (Further Education), NUS said:

“It is heartening to see that Ofqual are stepping away from an approach based solely on one set of predicted grades. We hope that they will be working on an approach which reflects the achievement of students fairly, takes into account this disrupted and stressful year and supports them to achieve their potential.

“We would like to see young people and those affected brought further in to the conversation about the exact process which will be used to determine the grades: it is their attainment and work at stake, and it is vital they are represented in this process.”

Responding to concerned A Level Students Clare Marchant, Chief Executive (UCAS) and Alistair Jarvis, Chief Executive (Universities UK), said:

“Following the recent Government announcements, we want to reassure you that all organisations involved in the higher education admissions process are working flat out to find a solution that’s efficient, fair and in your best interests.

“We appreciate this is a difficult and uncertain situation for applicants planning to start university in the autumn and we are committed to work together to ensure that your hard work to date will not go to waste and that no-one is unfairly impacted in this process by the Covid-19 virus.

“We are working with universities and colleges to be flexible in offer making decisions and they are committed to doing all they can to support you in these unprecedented times.

“It’s important to remember that places are not decided on grades alone. Information in your personal statement and reference are part of the decision-making process along with your interview, portfolio, audition and any other information that’s relevant to your potential to succeed on an undergraduate course.

“We expect once grades are available in July, universities and colleges will make decision on students with conditional offers and UCAS will support you through our Confirmation and Clearing process, should you need it.

“Our advice to students who have received an unconditional offer is always to think first about whether this is the right institution and course for you before you make any decision.

“At UCAS we will continue to support you through the application process and will continue to keep you up to date as more announcements are made.”

Chief Executives Dr Tim Bradshaw of Russell Group, Gordon McKenzie of GuildHE, Dr Greg Walker of MillionPlus, and Vanessa Wilson of University Alliance have put out a joint statement confirming that universities will do all they can to support students and ensure they can progress to university: 

“We know many students are anxious about what the cancellation of exams and assessments might mean. Our message to students is: we understand and universities are here for you.

“Universities are committed to doing all they can to support students and applicants and ensure they can progress to university. This will involve being flexible and responsive in their admissions processes.

“We want to reassure students who have applied to university, or are thinking of doing so through clearing, that every effort will be made to ensure they are not disadvantaged in any way by the decision not to go ahead with exams this summer.”

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