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JCQ Guidance: Determination of grades for A/AS Levels and GCSEs for summer 2021

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@JCQcic Guidance and Key dates – Determination of grades for A/AS Levels and GCSEs for summer 2021: 

The Joint Council for Qualifications (@JCQcic) has today published guidance for schools and colleges on how GCSE and AS/A Level grades will be determined in England this summer. 

Following the Department for Education’s (DfE) decision that it was no longer fair for exams to go ahead this summer, Awarding Organisations have worked hand-in-hand with school and college leaders, Ofqual and the DfE to ensure grades can be awarded as fairly as possible this summer.

Students will be graded by their school or college based on their performance across a range of evidence, and only on subject content they have been taught.

The JCQ Guidance provides a range of information including:

  • The use of assessment materials provided by Awarding Organisations;
  • Advice for schools and colleges around their internal quality assurance processes to ensure grades are as fair as possible;
  • Guidance for those schools and colleges accepting private candidates;
  • The grounds on which students will be able to appeal;
  • Information about what constitutes malpractice;
  • How reasonable adjustments should be taken into

Dr Philip Wright, Director General at JCQ, said: ‘JCQ and the Awarding Organisations appreciate the urgent need for detailed guidance on how grades will be awarded fairly and appropriately this summer.

‘We have worked with Ofqual and the DfE to ensure our guidance has been published as quickly as possible following the outcomes of the conclusions of their consultation. We understand, recognise and applaud the incredible effort of teachers in supporting students and their families over these tumultuous months.’

‘As we have developed the guidance, we have focused on three things: how best we can support teachers with helpful information, materials and templates; how we ensure compliance with Ofqual regulations and DFE requirements; and how we can keep the administrative burden for centres as manageable as possible.’

Dr Wright added: ‘We will continue to support the teaching and exam community throughout the entire grading process. JCQ has also published guidance for students and parents to ensure they understand how grades are being determined this year.

‘I want to reassure students who won’t have the opportunity to take exams this summer that JCQ, the Awarding Organisations, the DfE, and our regulator, Ofqual, have worked and will continue to work with your teachers, schools and colleges to ensure your grades reflect your performance on content you have been taught and allow you to confidently progress to the next stage of your education or into employment.’

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said:  

“This year, we are asking those who know pupils best – their teachers – to determine grades for young people.

“Teachers have already done so much in our year-long battle against this pandemic and I want to thank them for the part they’re now playing in helping ensure students are not held back by Covid-19.

“The guidance published today will support teachers with those decisions and support schools and colleges with their own processes, helping to maximise consistency across the country and ultimately maximise fairness for our young people.

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“We trust teachers in their decision-making and students can be confident that they will receive grades that enable them to progress to the next stage of their lives.”

NAHT comments on JCQ guidance on awarding GCSE and A Level grades this year

Commenting as the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) today release new guidance on exams for 2021, Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said:

“We welcome the publication of this range of guidance and support materials, and are pleased to see that they do have the clear expectations, requirements and processes to support consistency and fairness in the system. Schools now have what they need to embark on the process of awarding grades this year.

“However, we remain disappointed that schools have had to wait three months for the details of these plans. It would have been far better for the government to discuss and consult on a “plan B” much earlier to avoid unnecessary confusion and worry for students.

“Exams have been cancelled and grades will be awarded this year using evidence in the form of a range of student work. It is not helpful to make direct comparisons to results in years when exams have taken place. Everyone working with young people should be wary of devaluing their efforts and achievements.”

Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said: 

“Once again, with blatant disrespect for teacher and school leader workload, guidance has been issued on a vital process at the end of the week and on the cusp of their holidays. While the guidance itself is helpful and comprehensive, any government worth its salt would have been preparing for this eventuality from September, so that everything was ready to go as soon as the decision was made to cancel exams. School leaders and teachers now need assurances from the Secretary of State that no new requirements will be made of them, so that they can focus on carrying out high quality assessment.” 

Further guidance on how to submit appeals will be released next month.

For more information on awarding arrangements for summer 2021, please visit

Awarding Organisations are working hand-in-hand with school and college leaders, Ofqual and the Department for Education to ensure the grades determined by teachers in England reflect a fair, reasonable and carefully considered judgement of each student’s performance across a range of evidence, on the subject content that they have been taught.

The Awarding Organisations have developed guidance to support the determination of student grades by schools and colleges this summer, including around internal quality assurance, that minimises additional burden. Awarding Organisations will work together to conduct an external quality assurance exercise that will have elements of both targeted and random sampling of centres so that the grades awarded across the system command confidence. Importantly, individual students will have the opportunity to ask for their grades to be checked if they believe an error has been made.

When are the key dates?

  • 22 March to 22 April: Entry amendments window open for centres
  • 26 April: Entry deadline for private candidates
  • 12 April to 30 April: Window for Centre Policy submission
  • 19 April to 11 June: Awarding organisations review Centre Policies and conduct virtual visits where needed
  • 26 May to 18 June: Window for Teacher Assessed Grades submission opens via awarding organisations’ respective portals
  • 18 June to 16 July: Exam boards conduct sample checks of evidence
  • 10 August: A/AS Levels and relevant other Level 3 results day
  • 12 August: GCSE and relevant other Level 2 results day
  • 10 August to 7 September: priority appeals window
  • 10 August to end October: majority of non-priority appeals take place

How will grades be determined in summer 2021?

  • For summer 2021, exam boards will ask exam centres to generate, for each subject, teacher assessed grades for their students. These grades should be based on a range of evidence completed as part of the course, including evidence produced in the coming months, which demonstrates the student’s performance on the subject content they have been
  • Teacher assessed grades will represent a holistic, objective judgement based on evidence of each student’s performance that can be authenticated as their

What evidence will (and will not) be used to determine student grades?

  • Students will only be graded on their performance based on the subject content they have been taught. Students will be told by their school or college what evidence is going to be used, so that they have the opportunity to raise any genuine and valid concerns. (Some students may have missed a section of teaching due to valid reasons such as bereavement or long-term illness, or it may be the case that reasonable adjustments or access arrangements weren’t in place for a particular )
  • The Department for Education has produced guidance on r ecommended evidence, which includes:
    • student work produced in response to assessment materials provided by Awarding Organisations, including groups of questions, past papers or similar materials such as practice or sample papers
    • non-exam assessment (NEA)
    • student work produced in centre-devised tasks that reflect the specification
    • records of a student’s performance over the course of study in performance-based subjects such as music, drama and PE
  • After all grading decisions have been made, schools and colleges are advised to review their aggregate cumulative grade distribution for each subject, and qualification type as an overall ‘common-sense’ check of outcomes. If outcomes are much higher than in previous years (2017-2019), or much lower, the reasons for it should be

What are the 2021 additional assessment materials?

  • Awarding organisations will provide schools and colleges with a package of materials to assist teachers in the determination of
  • These materials are not exams, nor are they designed to play the role of
  • In most cases, these will be based on past papers – including papers from 2019 and 2020 that haven’t previously been publicly
  • Question items will be published openly after students return from the Easter break, to ensure fairness to all students, including private candidates. 

What does the quality assurance process look like?

  • There are 3 stages to the quality assurance process:
    • Stage 1: Schools and colleges develop and adopt a Centre Policy and submit a summary to Awarding Organisations for review. This is to ensure the internal arrangements each centre has in place for determining grades are
    • Stage 2: Awarding Organisations conduct virtual visits with schools and colleges where the summary indicates further support and guidance may be
    • Stage 3: The final stage of the quality assurance process is to confirm that centres have implemented what is in their Centre Policies and that their submitted grades reflect this. This will include targeted and random sampling. Awarding organisations will decide whether to accept the grades submitted by centres or undertake further review.

What are the grounds for appeal?

  • After results, the need for appeals should be limited as students should be confident in their grades because schools and colleges will have adhered to their Centre Policy, conducted a high standard of internal quality assurance, made effective provision of access arrangements, provided effective communication with students and their parents/guardians, conducted effective record keeping, and the Head of Centre will have signed a declaration regarding the determination of the
  • However, students who consider that an error has been made in determining their grade will have the right to
  • There are four grounds upon which a centre review or appeal may be requested:
    • The centre made an administrative error, e.g. an incorrect grade was submitted; an incorrect assessment mark was used when determining the
    • The centre did not apply a procedure correctly, such as the centre did not follow its Centre Policy, did not undertake internal quality assurance, did not take account of access arrangements or mitigating circumstances, such as
    • The awarding organisation made an administrative error, e.g. the grade was incorrectly changed by the awarding organisation during the processing of
    • The student considers that the centre made an unreasonable exercise of academic judgement in the choice of evidence from which to determine the grade and/or the determination of the grade from that evidence. 
  • What’s in the guidance? How does it help teachers?

    • The guidance sets out clearly, stage by stage, the process for how grades will be determined by teachers and awarded by Awarding Organisations 
    • This includes:
      • advice for schools and colleges on completing their Centre Policy – this document will outline the approach individual schools and colleges will take to ensure internal standardisation of teacher assessed grades, to ensure consistency, fairness and objectivity of
      • guidance for teachers on determining grades, including advice on considering what content has been taught, how evidence can be collected, and what is appropriate for each
      • information to support internal quality assurance – for example, using data on historical centre performance to support the grading process, but not drive
      • how external quality assurance will be conducted, including when centres might expect to participate in virtual visits with Awarding organisations. 
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