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What you need to know about grades in 2021


GCSE, AS and A level exams will not be going ahead as planned this summer.

Today, we have announced that students will receive grades determined by teachers, with pupils only assessed on what they have been taught and not what they may have missed. Here is what this means for you and your families.

What has been announced today?

This year, we will ask those who know students best – their teachers – to assess them so they can progress to the next stages of their education or careers and not be disadvantaged by the disruption of the last year.

Why are teachers determining grades?

We want to ensure all young people can have the confidence that, despite exams not going ahead, they will still receive a grade that reflects their ability and enables them to progress to the next stage of their education, training, or employment. Fairness is at the heart of the system designed to replace exams.

We held a consultation with the exams regulator, Ofqual, to ask what the public thought about our proposals. We received over 100,000 replies with more than three quarters coming from parents/carers and students. There was broad support for the proposals.

How are you going to guard against grade inflation?

Exam boards will issue grade descriptors and example answers to help teachers make sure their assessments are fair and consistent. These will be broadly comparable to performance standards from previous years, so teachers and students are clear what is expected for each grade. Combined with a rigorous quality assurance process, this system will ensure grades are fair, and consistent. Quality assurance by the exam boards will provide meaningful checks in the system.

GCSEs, AS and A levels

How will the grades be assessed?

Grades will be based on what students have been taught, not what they’ve missed.

Teachers will be given clear guidance to support them in assessing their students. They will use a range of evidence, which could include mock exams, coursework and other work completed as part of a student’s course, such as essays or in-class tests.

Exam boards will also provide optional sets of questions for teachers to use to help them gather evidence. There will be a combination of published and unpublished questions and teachers will be able to select groups of questions that reflect what they have taught.

What are the timings for this?

Teachers will submit grades to exam boards by Friday 18 June 2021.

Results days for GCSE, AS, and A level and some vocational qualifications will then take place in the week of Monday 9 August 2021. This will give extra time for any appeals to be assessed.

What processes will be in place to ensure the grades are as fair as possible?

Before grades are submitted, students will be told what evidence is being used to assess them. Students can see this evidence and tell their teachers about any mitigating circumstances they think might affect their grade.

Schools will make sure that their assessment process is fair, using guidance from exam boards. Exam boards will also check schools – both a representative sample of all schools and colleges, and more targeted checks using risk-based criteria.

How will the grading standards be set?

Teachers will consider each student’s performance using the sources of evidence they are using for their cohort. They will make an evidence-based judgement of the grade each student is performing at.

What if a student believes their grade is wrong?

As in any other year every student will have the right to appeal their grade. If they believe their grade is wrong, they can ask their centre to check for errors. If the student still believes their grade is wrong, their centre can then submit an appeal to the exam board on their behalf. The exam board can confirm whether the grade is reasonable based on the evidence. If not, they will determine the alternative grade.

An exam board will only revise a student’s grade where the evidence cannot reasonably support that grade, rather than as a result of marginal differences of opinion. Students should be aware that grades can go up or down as the result of an appeal.

What about private candidates?

Private candidates will be assessed in a similar way to other students, by working with a centre on a range of evidence. Ofqual and the exam boards will provide guidance to help exam centres assess these candidates.

We are working to ensure sufficient centres are available at an affordable cost. The list of centres will be published soon.

Vocational and technical qualifications and other general qualifications

What’s happening for a vocational and technical qualifications, like BTECs?

Students studying vocational and technical qualifications (VTQs) that are similar to, and taken alongside, or instead of, GCSEs and A levels will also receive grades assessed by teachers rather than sitting exams. The arrangements will be similar to those for GCSEs and A levels. This will be the case, for example, for many BTECs, Cambridge Nationals and Technicals, Tech Levels, Technical Awards and Technical Certificates. These arrangements will also apply to T Level core assessments.

What about students who are taking a vocational and technical qualification to go straight into a job?

If you are taking a VTQ to go straight into employment, your exams and assessments will continue where they can be delivered in line with public health measures, including remotely. This is because you need to demonstrate a necessary professional standard in an occupation.

What about students taking Functional Skills?

Exams and assessments for Functional Skills will continue where they can be delivered in line with public health measures, including remotely. If you can’t access the assessments, you will get your result through teacher assessed grades.

What about students taking the International Baccalaureate or Pre-U?

You won’t have exams. Your result will be issued based on teacher assessment, in a similar way to GCSEs and A levels.

When will students know if they are having an exam or not and what evidence is going to be used for their teacher assessed grade?

The awarding organisation that provides your specific qualification will be setting out its plans for each qualification from 25th February onwards. You should check individual awarding organisation websites to see the approach for your qualification or speak to your school or college.

When will students get their results?

If you are taking your qualification in order to get into college or university, your result will be issued in the week of Monday 9 August, in line with A levels and GCSEs.

Results for other VTQs will be issued throughout the year as usual.

What if a student thinks their grade is wrong?

If you are unhappy with the results you receive you will be able to appeal. Awarding organisations have their own appeals processes, but if you are awarded your qualification through teacher assessment, you will have access to a right of appeal on the same basis as those set out for GCSEs, AS and A levels.

Will students be able to take an exam in the autumn if they are not happy?

Depending on which VTQ you are taking, there may already be an opportunity in the autumn or winter to take an assessment. Check with your school or college in the first instance.

We are also working with Ofqual to decide whether there is more needed, beyond the existing autumn and winter assessment windows. Ofqual will consult on this over the coming weeks and will provide more information soon.

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