Eddie Playfair is a Senior Policy Manager at the Association of Colleges (AoC)

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought far-reaching change at an unprecedented rate across all aspects of our lives.

Post-16 education is no exception and colleges have had to rapidly adapt their approaches to teaching and learning and find new ways to support their students and their local communities.

One of the most radical turnarounds comes from the decision to cancel this year’s summer examination series for GCSEs and A Levels.

This amounts to a colossal national experiment in flipping the system from one which is highly dependent on externally set and marked written exams to one based on centre assessment by teachers, all within a few weeks.

The most recent guidance from the exams regulator, Ofqual, about how this will work is a good start but we need to remember that many college students take vocational and technical qualifications and functional skills and they too need reassurance about how their grades will be awarded.

We look forward to further guidance on this being issued shortly.

The English public examination system is one of the most complex in the world in terms of the sheer number of exams set and sat, the high level of grade differentiation, the amount of checking and analysis required to establish validity and the degree of moderation and standardisation needed to achieve consistency.

Ofqual is steering this turnaround on a very tight timetable while managing to consult key stakeholders at each step. Together with exam bodies, it is having to build a new system almost from scratch. It’s tough but it’s being done with the interests of students and their progression very much at the centre.

As a college principal, I knew little about Ofqual; we related mainly to the awarding organisations which set and mark exams. My role at AoC has brought me closer to their work in holding together the infrastructure of the system. I’ve been very impressed by their approach, both in ‘normal’ times and during the current crisis.

It’s good to see the level of confidence which will be shown in the judgements of teachers and centres around deciding the Centre Assessed Grades. Once established, that public statement of trust is there to be built on.

There’s now a lot for colleges and college staff to do by the 29 May to make this process work and we know that everyone involved will be objective and professional and will want to help establish the validity and accuracy of this summer’s grades. We need them to be valued and respected by receiving institutions, including colleges and universities.

There will be challenges with the grading and ranking process. In colleges with large numbers of candidates and multiple subject teachers, trying to rank every individual subject entry at institutional level is going to be difficult and may not add any greater accuracy. For example, over 100 colleges have a GCSE maths entry of more than 500 while the average Year 11 GCSE maths entry in schools is around 150. To add to the challenge, students in the college GCSE English and maths cohorts are mostly clustered around grades 3 and 4.

However, without some ranking of candidates it won’t be possible to create a sliding scale for any statistical adjustment to be applied. So it is reasonable to expect teachers to rank the students they teach and for the centre to submit these teacher rankings to the awarding organisations and for large centres it might be sensible to allow them to rank students in smaller sized groupings.

Looking ahead there will be other important decisions to be made. For instance, there needs to be maximum transparency about the statistical standardisation approach. Also, the equalities impact assessment should take into account the evidence of under-prediction for black and minority and disadvantaged candidates and to correct for this. The plan for a full autumn exam series is fraught with risk and should be limited to those candidates whose progression is in serious jeopardy. The emphasis in the 2020/21 academic year should be on supporting students to move forward and succeed on their new programme rather than seeking to improve on a grade awarded in 2020.

Once we have all got through this extraordinary period, we will be left with some pretty fundamental questions about our high-stakes exam system and whether we should reduce our dependency on terminal written exams. In the meantime, AoC will continue to work with Ofqual and the awarding organisations and support our members as they implement these new processes to ensure that no student is disadvantaged.

Eddie Playfair is a Senior Policy Manager at the Association of Colleges (AoC)

Register, Login or Login with your Social Media account:


Advertiser Skyscrapers

Video Advert

Newsroom Activity

Latest Education News

Further Education News

The FE News Channel gives you the latest education news and updates on emerging education strategies and the #FutureofEducation and the #FutureofWork.

Providing trustworthy and positive Further Education news and views since 2003, we are a digital news channel with a mixture of written word articles, podcasts and videos. Our specialisation is providing you with a mixture of the latest education news, our stance is always positive, sector building and sharing different perspectives and views from thought leaders, to provide you with a think tank of new ideas and solutions to bring the education sector together and come up with new innovative solutions and ideas.

FE News publish exclusive peer to peer thought leadership articles from our feature writers, as well as user generated content across our network of over 3000 Newsrooms, offering multiple sources of the latest education news across the Education and Employability sectors.

FE News also broadcast live events, podcasts with leading experts and thought leaders, webinars, video interviews and Further Education news bulletins so you receive the latest developments in Skills News and across the Apprenticeship, Further Education and Employability sectors.

Every week FE News has over 200 articles and new pieces of content per week. We are a news channel providing the latest Further Education News, giving insight from multiple sources on the latest education policy developments, latest strategies, through to our thought leaders who provide blue sky thinking strategy, best practice and innovation to help look into the future developments for education and the future of work.

In May 2020, FE News had over 120,000 unique visitors according to Google Analytics and over 200 new pieces of news content every week, from thought leadership articles, to the latest education news via written word, podcasts, video to press releases from across the sector.

We thought it would be helpful to explain how we tier our latest education news content and how you can get involved and understand how you can read the latest daily Further Education news and how we structure our FE Week of content:

Main Features

Our main features are exclusive and are thought leadership articles and blue sky thinking with experts writing peer to peer news articles about the future of education and the future of work. The focus is solution led thought leadership, sharing best practice, innovation and emerging strategy. These are often articles about the future of education and the future of work, they often then create future education news articles. We limit our main features to a maximum of 20 per week, as they are often about new concepts and new thought processes. Our main features are also exclusive articles responding to the latest education news, maybe an insight from an expert into a policy announcement or response to an education think tank report or a white paper.

FE Voices

FE Voices was originally set up as a section on FE News to give a voice back to the sector. As we now have over 3,000 newsrooms and contributors, FE Voices are usually thought leadership articles, they don’t necessarily have to be exclusive, but usually are, they are slightly shorter than Main Features. FE Voices can include more mixed media with the Further Education News articles, such as embedded podcasts and videos. Our sector response articles asking for different comments and opinions to education policy announcements or responding to a report of white paper are usually held in the FE Voices section. If we have a live podcast in an evening or a radio show such as SkillsWorldLive radio show, the next morning we place the FE podcast recording in the FE Voices section.

Sector News

In sector news we have a blend of content from Press Releases, education resources, reports, education research, white papers from a range of contributors. We have a lot of positive education news articles from colleges, awarding organisations and Apprenticeship Training Providers, press releases from DfE to Think Tanks giving the overview of a report, through to helpful resources to help you with delivering education strategies to your learners and students.


We have a range of education podcasts on FE News, from hour long full production FE podcasts such as SkillsWorldLive in conjunction with the Federation of Awarding Bodies, to weekly podcasts from experts and thought leaders, providing advice and guidance to leaders. FE News also record podcasts at conferences and events, giving you one on one podcasts with education and skills experts on the latest strategies and developments.

We have over 150 education podcasts on FE News, ranging from EdTech podcasts with experts discussing Education 4.0 and how technology is complimenting and transforming education, to podcasts with experts discussing education research, the future of work, how to develop skills systems for jobs of the future to interviews with the Apprenticeship and Skills Minister.

We record our own exclusive FE News podcasts, work in conjunction with sector partners such as FAB to create weekly podcasts and daily education podcasts, through to working with sector leaders creating exclusive education news podcasts.

Education Video Interviews

FE News have over 700 FE Video interviews and have been recording education video interviews with experts for over 12 years. These are usually vox pop video interviews with experts across education and work, discussing blue sky thinking ideas and views about the future of education and work.


FE News has a free events calendar to check out the latest conferences, webinars and events to keep up to date with the latest education news and strategies.

FE Newsrooms

The FE Newsroom is home to your content if you are a FE News contributor. It also help the audience develop relationship with either you as an individual or your organisation as they can click through and ‘box set’ consume all of your previous thought leadership articles, latest education news press releases, videos and education podcasts.

Do you want to contribute, share your ideas or vision or share a press release?

If you want to write a thought leadership article, share your ideas and vision for the future of education or the future of work, write a press release sharing the latest education news or contribute to a podcast, first of all you need to set up a FE Newsroom login (which is free): once the team have approved your newsroom (all content, newsrooms are all approved by a member of the FE News team- no robots are used in this process!), you can then start adding content (again all articles, videos and podcasts are all approved by the FE News editorial team before they go live on FE News). As all newsrooms and content are approved by the FE News team, there will be a slight delay on the team being able to review and approve content.

 RSS IconRSS Feed Selection Page