Commenting on the outcome of @Ofqual's consultation into arrangements for next years exams and assessment, Amanda Brown, Deputy  General Secretary at the National Education Union, said: 

“We're concerned that the Government has its head in the sand with its approach to GCSEs and A-Levels in England for 2021. The Government is going to need to adjust the content in GCSEs and A Levels beyond what was announced today. If the content isn't set at a realistic level, the results will become more a measure of which groups of students lost the most access to learning under Covid''. 

''The Secretary of State has acknowledged that not all students will have covered all elements of their course, or to the depth usually expected by the time they take their exams next summer. 

"We need to Covid proof examinations for next year, in order to allow consolidation, proper engagement within each subject and effective learning. Yet today's confirmation of business as normal for the content of most subjects next year makes insufficient allowance for the disruption this year and allows no contingency for any further disruption as a result of local or regional lockdowns. 

''The DfE and Ofqual have acknowledged that students have not had equal opportunities to access learning at home but the adaptations published so far aren't enough to counter that unfairness. Teachers will ask why it is possible to reduce content in many courses to more realistic levels in Wales but not in England. 

The NEU doesn't agree that fewer adaptations are necessary for A-Level students just because they are older. The same challenge faces A level students and teachers next year and content must be reduced to manageable and realistic levels if the awards next summer are to be a valid verdict on student's efforts. 

“It's sensible planning to reduce content in English literature GCSE but the DFE needs to take this approach and apply it to other subjects so all courses next year are enjoyable, manageable and engaging. Parents will expect courses to be realistic for their teenager and to reflect the disruption from Covid and teachers must be given courses to teach which are manageable and which enable them to support effective learning. ''

This consultation has concluded - Download the full outcome

Consultation decisions - proposed changes to the assessment of GCSEs, AS and A levels in 2021

Ref: Ofqual/20/6649PDF, 912KB, 27 pages

Detail of outcome

We have decided to implement the majority of the proposals we set out in the consultation document. In summary, these decisions mean that for summer 2021 exam boards:

  • should change how they assess content in GCSE geography, history and ancient history, as we proposed in our consultation
  • should change how they assess GCSE English literature, to allow for some choice in the content to be covered. The government, which is responsible for the content of GCSEs, AS and A levels, has decided to allow for this change in light of the responses to the consultation
  • should not, unless to accommodate subject specific decisions, make greater use of optional questions in exams
  • should remove the requirement for centres to make a declaration to them confirming they provided all students with the opportunity to undertake a mandated number of days of fieldwork in GCSE, AS and A level geography. The non-exam assessment should be retained at A level but the exam boards should consider how they can be flexible in their requirements for the non-exam assessment to use primary data. We proposed this change for GCSE geography only in the consultation. We have extended this to AS and A level in light of responses to the consultation
  • should remove the requirement for centres to make a declaration to them confirming they provided all students with the opportunity to undertake a mandated number of days of fieldwork in GCSE, AS and A level geology and AS and A level environmental science. We have made this decision in light of responses to the consultation
  • should adjust the observational activity requirements for GCSE astronomy which would allow students to observe rather than carry out the activities themselves. We have made this decision in light of responses to the consultation
  • will not be required to change the length, number or format of the exam papers, except as necessary to accommodate specific changes to the exam and assessment arrangements
  • should, for GCSEs in modern foreign languages, report the assessment of spoken language as an endorsement alongside the 9 to 1 grade
  • should allow for a range of adjustments to the assessment arrangements in a number of subjects to accommodate potential public health requirements, for example, GCSE food preparation and nutrition, GCSE, AS and A level music and GCSE physical education

Feedback received

Analysis of consultation responses: proposed changes to the assessment of GCSEs, AS and A levels in 2021

Published: PDF, 912KB, 74 pages

Annex to the analysis of consultation responses: proposed changes to the assessment of GCSEs, AS and A levels in 2021

Published: PDF, 4.52MB, 180 pages

Detail of feedback received

We received 28,972 responses to the online consultation that used the standard response form. This was a public consultation which asked for the views of those who wished to participate. We were pleased to receive a large number of responses, including many from students, and thank everyone for responding.

Original consultation


Proposals to modify the assessment requirements for some GCSEs, AS and A levels in response to disruption to education caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

This consultation ran from  to 

Consultation description

We are consulting on proposed changes to the way some GCSEs, AS and A levels we regulate should be examined in summer 2021 and to the arrangements for non-exam assessments undertaken by students who will be taking exams next summer. The proposals are made in the context of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. This has resulted in loss of education during the spring and summer terms of the academic year 2019/2020. In line with the government’s policy intentions we are planning for exams and assessments to be taken by students next year.

We are seeking views on our proposals to change the assessment requirements for some subjects to:

  • free up teaching time and, in some instances, reduce what needs to be taught; and

  • take account of any public health restrictions relating to coronavirus (COVID-19) that might be in place during the next academic year

This consultation includes proposals and questions on the following areas:

  • adaptations to exams and assessments that could free up teaching time

  • adaptations to exams and assessments to address obstacles that could be created by any public health safeguards

  • sampling of subject content

  • the use of more optional questions in exams

  • changing the length of exams

  • changing the exam timetable


Consultation on proposed changes to the assessment of GCSEs, AS and A levels in 2021

Ref: Ofqual/20/6635PDF, 669KB, 60 pages

VTQ position paper - operation and regulation for 2020/21

Ref: Ofqual/20/6635/1PDF, 459KB, 10 pages

Published 2 July 2020 
Last updated 3 August 2020 + show all updates

  1. Final outcomes and details of decisions added, as well as an analysis of responses and an annex to explain planned changes for individual subjects and qualifications.

  2. First published.

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