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Contingency plans confirmed for GCSEs, AS and A level exams

Ofqual Chief Regulator Dr Jo Saxton

@Education and @Ofqual have confirmed contingency plans in the event that exams planned next summer are unable to take place.

The Department for Education and Ofqual have today (11 November) confirmed contingency plans to support students in the unlikely event that exams in England cannot go ahead next year due to the pandemic.

The government intends for exams to take place next summer. But if they cannot go ahead safely or fairly due to the pandemic, contingency arrangements will be in place to ensure that schools and colleges are well prepared to enable students to achieve their qualifications.

Following a consultation, the department and qualifications regulator Ofqual have confirmed students would receive Teacher Assessed Grades based on a range of their work, similar to this summer.

To help minimise workload burdens on teachers and students, Ofqual has today published guidance for teachers on how they should collect evidence of students’ work during the academic year. This guidance reflects feedback from teachers and school leaders to make it as clear and helpful as possible.

Exams are planned with adaptations next summer to recognise disruption to education during the pandemic and maximise fairness for students. These include a choice of topics in some GCSE exams and advance information on the focus of other exams to help students’ revision.

Exam boards are also publishing formulae and equation sheets to help students in GCSE maths and some GCSE science exams, giving students time to familiarise themselves with them before exams.

Nadhim 100x100Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said:

“Exams are the best and fairest form of assessment, and we fully intend for them to take place next summer.

“Planning is underway for exams to go ahead with adaptations to recognise the impact of the pandemic.

“But it’s right, and I know schools and families would expect, that we have contingency plans in place so there is a safety net for students to gain their qualifications and progress to their next stage of education or employment, whatever the course of the pandemic.”

Ofqual Chief Regulator Dr Jo Saxton said:

“Students have shown so much resilience in the face of the pandemic.

“The back-up plans announced today incorporate their feedback, and that of their teachers, and mean students don’t need to worry about the ‘what if?’. They can concentrate on what really matters – studying and revising – as they prepare to show what they know and can do.”

Sarah Hannafin, senior policy advisor for school leaders’ union NAHT, said:

“NAHT welcomes the publication today of decisions on contingency plans for 2022. Although confirmation has come later than hoped, this guidance should help to avoid a repeat of the intense pressures for teachers and school leaders in summer 2021.

“The published contingency assessments guidance highlights that in most schools and colleges assessments to support students learning will already be planned over the course of the academic year. We agree that centres should use existing assessment opportunities so that the collection of evidence to support awarding in the event that exams are cancelled works alongside the teaching, learning and assessment which teachers have planned for this year. Those assessment opportunities might need to be tweaked to ensure they align with the other points of guidance, for example, the conditions under which they are sat, the use of exam style questions and the provision of reasonable adjustments.

“But there is no expectation that additional assessments should be taken by students only for the purpose of providing evidence for TAG’s. This would create significant additional workload for teachers and add pressure to students who are working hard to complete their courses, detracting from teaching and learning and using up valuable lesson time.”

Julie McCulloch, Director of Policy at the Association of School and College Leaders, said:

“Schools and colleges will be relieved to at last have certainty over the back-up plan in case exams cannot go ahead next summer, but it is ridiculous that it has taken so long for the government to confirm these arrangements. Teachers and students deserved to know what to expect much earlier and there is no reason why this could not have been sorted out before term began in September. But here we are more than half way through the autumn term before the machinery of government has managed to creak its way to a conclusion.

“These plans involve students having to sit a series of mock exams which may or may not count towards their final grades, as well as then probably having to take formal exams next summer. This is far from ideal and places them under a great deal of pressure. But not having a contingency plan would risk a repeat of the chaos of the past two years, and therefore, on balance, this seems like the right course of action and the confirmed set of measures appear to be sensible enough.

“Given these very difficult circumstances, however, it was particularly important that the government came to an early decision so that students at least had as much advance notice as possible, and so that schools and colleges were able to plan accordingly. We simply do not understand why the government has not shown a much greater sense of urgency.

“This plan will mean considerable workload for schools and colleges. To mitigate the additional workload, the exam boards should produce banks of assessment questions that can be used flexibly by schools and colleges to construct exam-style papers.”

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

“This is the third year in a row that decisions about the contingency plans for GCSE, AS and A levels have been published. Yet again teachers and leaders have been left in limbo, teaching pupils who are in their final GCSE and A level years without knowing how they will be assessed if the exams cannot take place. The lack of urgency is shameful and an affront to parents, pupils and their teachers – all of whom needed to know, much earlier than today, how they would be assessed if the exam system fell over, as it did last year and the year before. 

“It is regrettable that successive education ministers trot out the tired old line that ‘exams are the best and fairest method of assessment’. Saying so repeatedly does not make it true. The current qualification system has hugely narrowed the range of subjects taken at A level and left England at the top of the OECD international rote-learning league tables. Exams are good for assessing some things. Other forms of assessment, such as extended project work, are good for other competences and skills that young people will need in the 21st century.  It is time we had a proper debate about exams and it is time that the government engaged with the profession in this debate.” 


The majority of schools, colleges and others who responded to the consultation broadly agreed with the proposals for Teacher Assessed Grades, with more than 70 per cent of people and organisations agreeing that Ofqual’s proposed guidance to support schools in collecting evidence was helpful or very helpful.

Ofqual’s guidance sets out what schools and colleges need to do in advance to ensure evidence is available for determining grades, to be used if exams are cancelled at a later date. Only at that stage would Ofqual and exam boards provide guidance on how to determine a grade, and on arrangements for quality assurance checks, and appeals.

The Ofqual guidance says that, in many cases, schools and colleges need only conduct their normal amount of assessment, and teachers should guard against over-assessment.

Advance information for next summer’s planned exams will be given in early February to help students focus their revision over the final months. The timing will be kept under review, subject to the course of the pandemic. The department has previously published contingency guidance for vocational and technical qualifications.

The government has an ambitious and long-term education recovery plan, backed by an investment to date of nearly £5 billion. It will help children and young people to make up for lost learning and get back on track. This includes delivering world-class training for teachers, providing tutoring across the country, and extending time in colleges by 40 hours a year.

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