Students will receive grades awarded and determined by teachers, with pupils only assessed on what they have been taught, the Education Secretary @GavinWilliamson announced today.
Teacher assessed grades for students
- Teachers set to receive guidance and optional groups of questions from exam boards to support them in determining grades
- Results days in week commencing 9 August
Students will receive grades awarded and determined by teachers, with pupils only assessed on what they have been taught, the Education Secretary announced today (Thursday, 25 February).
Teachers will be able to draw on a range of evidence when determining grades, including the optional use of questions provided by exam boards, as well as mock exams, coursework, or other work completed as part of a pupil’s course, such as essays or in-class tests. No algorithm will be used.
Teachers will submit grades to exam boards by 18 June, allowing as much teaching time as possible before teachers make their assessments.
Results days for GCSE, A level and some vocational qualifications will take place in the week of 9 August – moved forward from the week of the 23 August.
These earlier dates provide additional time for appeals to be completed, so students reliant on those outcomes to achieve their university offer have the best chance of accessing a place.
To support teachers in making their judgements, exam boards will provide detailed guidance before the end of the spring term.
Staff across education have been going above and beyond to support young people through the pandemic, and the guidance published by boards will be designed to minimise any additional burden this year’s awarding process may place in teachers and staff.
Students studying vocational and technical qualifications (VTQs) that are often taught alongside GCSEs and A levels on one or two year courses, and used for university or college places, will also receive grades assessed by teachers rather than sitting exams.
Exams and assessments will continue in VTQs where they are needed for students to demonstrate the necessary professional standard in an occupation.
Schools, colleges and other educational settings will conduct multiple checks – such as checking consistency of judgements across teachers and that the correct processes were followed - to ensure as much fairness as possible.
At the same time, exam boards will conduct their own checks, through a combination of random sampling and more targeted scrutiny where they identify cause for concern.
Every student will have the right to appeal their grade.
The proposals being taken forward were supported in responses to the department and Ofqual’s largest ever consultation, with over 100,000 responses of which just over half (52%) came from pupils.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said:
“Young people have shown incredible resilience over the last year, continuing with their learning amidst unprecedented challenges while the country battles with this pandemic. Those efforts deserve to be fairly rewarded.
“That’s why we are providing the fairest possible system for those pupils, asking those who know them best – their teachers – to determine their grades, with our sole aim to make sure all young people can progress to the next stage of their education or career.
“I also recognise many students need their vocational and technical qualifications to enter into work. Exams and practical assessments in these courses are essential for the students to progress to the next stage, and so it’s right that these continue.”
Ofqual’s Interim Chief Regulator Simon Lebus said:
“We know how difficult this past year has been for many students, parents, schools and colleges. In normal years, we rely on exams to support students’ progression.
“This year it is teachers’ judgement that will be used to assess what has been learned and determine student grades. Assessment cannot itself serve as an instrument to recover lost learning and compensate for the different experiences students will have had in different parts of the country, and the arrangements being put in place will therefore only take into account what students have been taught, not what they have missed. The aim is to make it no harder overall for this year’s students to receive a particular grade than students in other years.
“I am confident that these arrangements will allow all parts of the education and training sector to work together collectively to make sure students’ grades reflect what they have achieved and provide a sound basis to enable them to make good decisions about their future.”
There will also be a clear and accessible route for private candidates to work with a centre to receive a grade this year, at the same time as other candidates. Exam boards will provide centres with clear guidance on the evidence they can use to assess a private candidate. A list of available centres will be published shortly and, we are working with the sector to ensure there are sufficient centres available and at a similar cost to a normal year.
Sector Reaction to the Teacher Assessed Grades Announcement
Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) chief executive Jane Hickie said:
“After five months of battling and now a government timetable for ending the lockdown, the confirmation that teacher assessments will be permitted for functional skills seems almost like a pyrrhic victory for the thousands of apprentices who have been unable to progress. It is also disappointing that the assessments can’t begin until after Easter on technical grounds which don’t seem to trouble the Welsh Government.
“We anticipate that teacher assessments will be needed despite the lockdown restrictions being lifted and it may take up to the end of July to clear the logjam of untaken FSQ tests. Independent training providers, assessors and apprentices are at the back of the queue in receiving covid home testing kits and therefore safety considerations are likely to lead in a demand for the alternative arrangements allowed by this consultation outcome.
“Young apprentices have been let down very badly by this sorry episode of complete indifference during an unprecedented pandemic and many of them are now beyond the planned ended dates of their apprenticeship programmes, meaning that they are reliant on their providers to support them unfunded. Not exactly the apprenticeship guarantee that the prime minister had in mind.
“As a consequence of this, the next bottleneck is going to be a run on demand for end point assessment between April and July which historically is the busiest time of the year.”
Responding the Education Secretary Gavin Williamson's announcement setting out the timeline for awarding grades in 2021 and the use of teacher assessed grades, Chief Executive of AoC, the representative body for England's colleges, David Hughes said:
“Today’s announcement provides more information on the process for awarding grades and on the timetable for exam centres, for exam results and for autumn resits. There is a lot to take in even before each awarding organisation issues more information in March about how they will take it forward.
"Overall, the package is the best solution to a difficult situation – trusting teachers to make judgements, based on evidence and quality assured should deliver the fairest possible results this year. We need Ofqual, DfE and awarding organisations to be very aware of the potential for bias in this approach and look forward to seeing analysis on how the system works for Black and minority ethnic students as well as those from disadvantaged backgrounds.
"We are also concerned that bringing forward the GCSE results days to early August will create extremely high workloads for the college staff managing the admission and transfer process at 16 as well as the advice and support to students progressing on from college into higher education, apprenticeships and jobs.”
Tom Bewick, Chief Executive of the Federation of Awarding Bodies (FAB) said:
“We welcome the clarity provided by the arrangements for this summer. The joint approach of the regulator, Ofqual and the Department for Education, working closely with awarding bodies, means we can plan with some confidence how we ensure that every learner can progress this year. We also welcome the excellent work that the minister, Gillian Keegan MP, has been doing with FAB's members as the chair of the VTQ task force. This group is providing an important overview of the implementation arrangements for the summer in relation to all vocational and technical quals.”
David Gallagher, Chief Executive of NCFE said:
“We welcome the outcomes of the Ofqual consultation. The priority must be that every student gets the grades they deserve so that they can progress to the next stage of their life. The alternative arrangements for assessments announced today, including plans for awarding grades to those taking vocational and technical qualifications, provide a route to achieving that, whilst maintaining rigour and ensuring schools, colleges and training organisations are well supported in the process.
“In an enormously challenging 12 months for students and teachers, we will still see many young people succeed against this backdrop of adversity and go straight on to work on the front line, directly supporting the national effort to combat the Covid crisis, starting jobs in health care, social care and education. Sectors like these have never been more important than now - these young people, and their peers, should be applauded.
“Thinking now needs to move quickly to what the system will be beyond this year. We are living in a dynamically changing world and the pandemic has shown us that significant change is required within assessment to ensure it is future proofed, fit for purpose and ultimately, unlocks every individual’s potential. Many sectors are making dramatic changes to be more effective - education must do so as well.
“More than that, it has shown us the urgent need for mental fitness and meta skills to be a central part of the curriculum, ensuring young people have the confidence and resilience to adapt to whatever challenges come their way.
“At NCFE, we will stand at the forefront of this transformation, demonstrating the key role that awarding organisations have to play in the education ecosystem, adding value far beyond the transactional, so that more people can benefit from transformational learning experiences and achieve the best possible learning outcomes.”
Commenting on the government's plan for 2021 grades, Natalie Perera, Chief Executive of the Education Policy Institute (EPI), said:
"While the government was right to opt for teacher assessed grades following the massive disruption to students’ learning, our concern is that significant risks remain with its approach set out today.
"There is still a very high risk that we will see inconsistences in the grades among different pupils and schools. Without timely and detailed guidance for schools on how this year’s grades should be benchmarked against previous years, and with classroom assessments only being optional, there is a significant risk that schools will take very different approaches to grading.
"This could result in large numbers of pupils appealing their grades this year or extremely high grade inflation, which could be of little value to colleges, universities, employers and young people themselves."
David Laws, Executive Chairman of the Education Policy Institute (EPI), said:
"Schools will be relieved at last to have the details on how they are expected to grade students this year, but we are still yet to see in the government’s plans how it intends to tackle the risk of excessive grade inflation.
"Without robust mechanisms in place which anchor the overall results at a level which is consistent with previous years, there is a danger that the value and credibility of this year’s grades are seriously undermined.
"The government has indicated that exam boards will apply checks and monitoring, but we also need a strong and risk-based quality assurance process which is able to scrutinise any results which look clearly out of line with previous years."
Commenting on the Government’s arrangements for schools and colleges to determine GCSE, A Level and equivalent grades for 2021, Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:
"It is wrong that education professionals, parents and students alike have had to wait until now to know how grades will be determined this summer. They have rightly been demanding clarity, some certainty and robust contingency planning since the start of the academic year and options to facilitate these things were highlighted to government by the NEU.
"This wait, and therefore the anxiety stemming from it, has been exacerbated by two things. Firstly, for GCSEs and A-Levels, if government didn’t rely solely on end-of-course exams in order to give the grade, there would already be some evidence of student performance ‘in the bank’, as there is for many other qualifications such as BTECs and Cambridge Nationals. Secondly, government acted too late. Had there been steps taken at the start of the academic year to prepare for the eventuality that exams may not be able to happen, in the way the sector including the NEU had been calling for, this could have been more easily resolved.
"Given this late action, in the situation we now find ourselves, the process laid out by government today is better than the original consultation proposals and is likely the least worst option available. It is helpful that government has listened to the consensus amongst the profession and this process gives students the best chance at grades which are as fair and consistent as possible in the circumstances: the NEU and its members will undoubtedly do everything they can now to make it work.
"However, there are still question marks over how it is expected that the extra work necessary to facilitate grading will be dealt with. Substantial time will need to be set aside for the initial assessments and gradings and then the internal school moderation processes; it may well be that extra staff need to be employed to release teachers for this important work. The steps laid out by government today rightly require the professional expertise of school and college staff – they are highly trained professionals who know their students well and are best placed to make decisions about their performance. However, they cannot be expected to simply absorb additional workload. This is another aspect of the plans which would have worked more easily had government listened earlier in the academic year and put in place consistent, robust contingency arrangements for evidencing student performance.
"In order to make this grading process as successful as possible Government must outline how schools and colleges will be supported to ensure staff have the necessary time to engage with it properly, in a way which does not increase workload.
"It is also important that no student is disadvantaged on the basis of the qualification they are taking and we will continue to relay members’ experiences with the process laid out to ensure government, Ofqual and awarding bodies are facilitating parity between vocational and technical qualifications, GCSEs and A-Levels."
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the school leaders’ union NAHT said:
“It has been a significantly disrupted year for students and their teachers, and the government owes them a robust system of awarding grades, bearing in mind none of this disruption has been their fault.
“Ultimately, grades are a passport to the next place of study or work. Today’s plans appear to chart a path which avoids the awful chaos of last year. This set of decisions is, however, only the starting point; it is now down to the awarding bodies to provide the detail which schools and colleges need to implement the process.
“We are pleased to see that students will be assessed on what they have learned and that schools and colleges will be able to use a range of evidence to arrive at a grade that fairly reflects what a student knows, understands and can do in a subject.
“Every grade submitted by a school or college, in each subject for every student, will be the result of the collaborative efforts of teachers, heads of department and senior leaders, supported by the awarding bodies and subject to robust quality assurance processes. That will mean that the grades awarded will command the confidence of everyone involved, from students themselves to universities and employers.
“NAHT remains concerned about the change in the dates of results days. Although earlier results for students seeking to start university could be beneficial, cramming GCSE results into the same week will place unnecessary pressure on to the system.”
Commenting on the announcement by the Department for Education on teacher assessed grades for qualifications this summer, Dr Patrick Roach, General Secretary of the NASUWT-The Teachers’ Union, said:
“The NASUWT has recognised consistently that the difficult but necessary decision to cancel examinations in the summer of 2021 has meant hard choices for Government and the regulator in ensuring that young people can leave school or college with credible and worthwhile qualifications.
“The core test for Ministers to meet in admittedly challenging circumstances was to ensure that the solution for qualifications was as fair as possible for candidates and as manageable as possible for centres and their staff.
“Today's announcement leaves many important questions of detail unanswered and teachers, school and college leaders and candidates remain uncertain about the precise nature of the arrangements that will be put in place. That such uncertainty persists a matter of months before assessments are due to be completed is profoundly concerning.
“However, from the information that has been set out today, it is by no means evident that the Government and Ofqual have made the right calls in determining how qualifications should be awarded. As the NASUWT has made clear consistently, a solution that does not recognise the extraordinary pressures on centre staff cannot be regarded as close to fit for purpose.
“By rejecting the Union's calls for awarding body-set assessments to be made mandatory in the majority of cases and marked externally, a golden opportunity has been missed to secure a consistent, reliable and manageable approach to awarding.
“Warm words about the pressures on teachers and school leaders from the Government are scant consolation for this serious error of judgement. In any event, it would appear that the Government has ducked the issue by outsourcing responsibility for addressing workload concerns to awarding bodies.
“It will not escape the attention of teachers and school and college leaders that there is no detail in today's announcement on how centres will be expected to ensure that assessments are undertaken consistently and fairly within and between centres, no meaningful information on quality assurance processes nor on how decisions should be made about the kinds of evidence to be used in assessments.
“Of particular concern is the wholly unjustified decision to move results day to the week beginning 9 August, particularly in light of the lack of information about the precise nature of the responsibilities centres will be expected to take on in managing candidate appeals.
“The NASUWT will be raising these and other critical concerns about these matters with Ministers and Ofqual as a matter of urgency.”
Kate Green MP, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, responding to the Government’s plan for summer assessments process to replace exams, said:
“The Government’s delayed announcement of the replacement for exams has created needless stress for pupils, parents and teachers.
“Gavin Williamson created chaos last summer and this cannot be allowed to happen again.
“The Government must now set out the detail schools and colleges need to ensure every pupil receives fair grades which enable them to move onto the next stage of their education, training or employment.”
Commenting on the Department for Education’s announcement that students will receive grades awarded and determined by teachers this year, a spokesperson for Universities UK said:
“Universities recognise that this year’s school leavers have borne the brunt of disruption caused by pandemic. University admissions teams will pull out all the stops to make sure that this year’s applicants get the opportunity to fulfil their potential at university. They will continue to be fair and flexible in their decision making including, as in any year, for those who choose to appeal their results over the summer.
“There has been more interest than ever in going to university this year, with applicants recognising that doing so gives them strong career prospects and the skills employers need. If this demand means that a course is full, universities will help students find suitable, alternative study choices.”
“We support the decision to ensure that universities will now have sight of applicants’ grades before results day. The revised timetabling will give students greater certainty about where they will be studying soon after results day, minimising stress after a difficult year caused by the pandemic”
Leora Cruddas, Chief Executive of the Confederation of School Trusts, said:
“This year the Government has made clear that the process for awarding grades should be based on teachers’ professional judgement. There is a reasonable consensus that teacher judgement will need to be both supported, scaffolded and quality assured. This is because although the pandemic has had a damaging impact, we still want assessment outcomes this year to reflect something objective.
“The DfE and Ofqual’s response to the consultation has had to balance carefully the views of multiple stakeholders. The arrangements that are being announced today will provide welcome certainty as to what schools, trusts and colleges are being asked to do.”
John Jolly, Chief Executive, Parentkind, said:
“It's clear from our research that what matters most to parents when it comes to their children's exams is fairness. The majority of parents believe that teacher assessment is, under the circumstances, the fairest way to test pupils and award them with grades that reflect their knowledge and understanding. They also want to see a range of evidence taken into account when determining grades.
“We therefore fully support the DfE's commitment to avoid assessing on a full curriculum this year, which very few parents want, as well as finding flexible ways for teachers to assess pupils' work based on what they have learnt. Clarity over the new arrangements for this summer's exams, which take parents’ views into account, provides parents and students alike with peace of mind. Exam cohorts can now focus on a successful conclusion to their studies.”
Martyn Oliver, Chief Executive of Outwood Grange Academies Trust said:
“Children have experienced very different levels of learning since last March and the arrangements announced today will bring a great sense of relief. Teachers, who know their pupils best, are being trusted and supported to ensure that all pupils are given a grade based upon what they have covered and not on what they may have missed. In a difficult time for everyone, this is the fairest system possible that will help children progress in their education, training or employment.”
Hamid Patel, Chief Executive of Star Academies said:
“The arrangements announced by DfE today for 2021 examinations provide fairness, certainty and reflect feedback to Ofqual’s wide-ranging consultation with schools, parents and pupils. Our young people can be confident that their hard work and achievement will be properly recognised and that they will have a solid foundation for the next stage of their journey.”
Qualification results awarded using alternative assessment arrangements in 2020/21 will not be used to create performance table measures at school or college level for use in accountability. More details on what this means for accountability arrangements in 2020/21 will follow shortly.
Following the news that A-level and GCSE results will be decided by teachers, Winston Poyton, Education lead at IRIS Software - one of the UK’s largest privately held software companies - shares his thoughts.
He comments: "Placing trust in teachers to determine grades this summer shows the lessons of 2020 have been learned. But this trust means nothing if teachers don’t trust their own systems to deliver the intelligence they need to fairly and consistently grade exams.
"Having delivered blended learning for a year, the academic data stored in school management systems is more critical than ever before. Yet existing systems trap the essential insight educators need. Teachers must have the right tools that puts intelligence directly into their hands so they can access accurate information for all students from across the academic year. Without this, they will lose precious bandwidth gathering the insight they need, detracting from their most important task – improving the life chances of children."
Helen Newies, Operations Director at GCSEPod, said:
“Students have been dealt so many blows this year, and are understandably anxious about how they will fare in this summer’s assessments. It is a huge testament to teachers that such an overwhelming majority of pupils place trust in their judgment.
“At GCSEPod our success relies on relationships as much as technology - the relationships between teachers, students and their families. We have been privileged to be on hand to support them in this battle to keep learning during such turbulent times.”
Further information from DfE on Teacher Assessed Grades:
- If a student didn’t take up the offer of autumn exams and was hoping to resit this summer, they should work with the school or college that entered them last year to develop evidence for a new grade.
- For smaller qualifications taken for mixed purposes, such as Functional Skills Qualifications and English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL), exams and assessment for these should continue in line with public health measures, but with alternative arrangements available for those who cannot access the assessments.