What’s happening with GCSE and A Level exams this year?
With GCSE and A levels exams cancelled in 2020, many questions have been raised about what exactly is happening. Kings Oxford have been working closely with their students to support them through this difficult period. Kings are still ‘open’ – supporting current students through online channels and available to talk to potential new students about their future studies. They’ve kindly shared answers to frequently asked questions around what happens now for students who were due to take their GCSEs or A-Levels. They also give some great advice too.
What is the situation regarding this summer’s exams?
On 20 March 2020 the Secretary of State for Education announced that this summer’s GCSE, A’ and AS level exams would be cancelled in order to stop the spread of coronavirus.
How will I be graded?
The government has said that GCSE, A and AS level students will be awarded a grade which fairly reflects the work that they have put in. Ofqual (the examinations regulator) will develop and set out a process that will provide a calculated grade to each student which reflects their performance as fairly as possible, and will work with the exam boards to ensure this is consistently applied for all students. The exam boards will be asking teachers, who know their students well, to submit their judgement about the grade that they believe you would have received if exams had gone ahead.
How will teachers work out these ‘calculated’ grades?
Teachers have been advised to answer the key question: ‘what grade would this particular student most plausibly have achieved if they were taking the exam?’ Mock grades and predicted grades may be different.
Teachers will be advised to take into account a range of evidence and data including: classwork; bookwork; any non-exam assessment (whether or not complete); performance on mock exams; previous exam results (e.g for any re-sitting students or those with relevant AS qualifications); any participation in performances in subjects such as music, drama or PE; the rank order of students within each grade for each subject – for example, for all those students with a centre assessment grade of 5 in GCSE maths, a rank order where 1 is the most secure/highest attaining student, and so on. This information will be used in the statistical standardisation of centres’ judgements – allowing fine tuning of the standard applied across all schools and colleges
End of school primary tests (SATs) will be used, in some part, as a means to determine the 2020 GCSE grades to be awarded by schools. Further, schools have been advised to “not seek any further work from students at this point to support teacher-assessed grades.”
The exam boards will combine this information with other relevant data, including prior attainment, and use this information to produce a calculated grade for each student, which will be a best assessment of the work you have put in.
What about students who are home-schooled or studying independently?
Ofqual is conscious that many private candidates (students who have been home-schooled, following distance-learning programmes or studying independently) are anxious to know how these arrangements might be applied to them.
Heads of centre have been asked to provide centre assessment grades for private candidates registered to take exams with their centre and include them in the rank order where they are confident that they and their staff have seen sufficient evidence of the student’s achievement to make an objective judgement. Ofqual is urgently exploring whether there are alternative options for students who need results this summer to progress and for whom a centre assessment grade is not possible.
It may, unfortunately, be necessary for some to take exams in the autumn or next summer to get their grades. Ofqual appreciates that this is a matter of real concern to private candidates and will provide an update as soon as possible. Ofqual has asked organisations that represent universities and FE colleges to consider private candidates when making admissions decisions this summer. They have told Ofqual that they believe that institutions will consider a range of other evidence and information for these students to allow them to progress wherever possible.
When will 2020 GCSE and A Level grades be published?
The government’s aim is to provide these calculated grades before the end of July.
Will these grades count as a permanent ‘record’ or attainment?
Yes. In terms of a permanent record, the grades will be indistinguishable from those provided in other years. The government will also aim to ensure that the distribution of grades follows a similar pattern to that in other years, so that you do not face a systematic disadvantage as a consequence of these extraordinary circumstances.
Will I be able to appeal if I don’t agree with their grades?
Yes. If you do not believe the correct process has been followed in your case or if you do not feel your calculated grade reflects your performance, you will be able to appeal on that basis.
Will I be able to sit my exams at a later date?
Yes, the government has said that there will also be an option to sit an exam ‘early in the next academic year’ for students who wish to. You will also have the option to sit your exams in summer 2021.
What about my application to university this year?
The Universities Minister has stated that grades will be ‘equally as valid as those in previous years, and that hard work will be rewarded and fairly recognised. There is no reason for the usual admissions cycle to be disrupted.’ In addition, Universities UK has confirmed institutions will be flexible and will do all they can to support you to progress to higher education. We advise you to check the UCAS website regularly as some universities will be changing deadlines so it is important to keep checking this.
How can I make best use of my time during this period of temporary physical school closures?
If you have been set homework or assignments by your school or college, make sure you finish them. If you’ve been timetabled online classes, make sure you join them. It’s important that you finish your course both to gain the knowledge and skills for your next course of study and to demonstrate what you have achieved. At Kings teachers are setting tasks, delivering virtual lessons through Classmate (Kings’ VLE), sending resources and feeding back marks and comments on tasks completed.
It might also be helpful for you to look over your recent school reports, assignments, mock grades and predicted grades. Although grades are being recommended by teachers, they aren’t just going to give you 8’s and 9’s because you were nice to them in class. Be honest with yourself – what would you be likely to get? Consider your work in class, as well as your mock exams and coursework. What can you realistically expect?
What can I do to prepare for my course?
Get ahead – if you are starting A levels, IB or a college course, use this time to get ahead. Some of the subjects will be completely new (Psychology, Sociology, Law) others will require really strong foundations (Chemistry, Maths, English).
A’ levels are quite a step up from GCSE’s. A degree course is another step up from A’ levels. Get prepared. If you can, try to get hold of a reading list. Many universities and colleges publish these online. Use this time wisely.
You could sign up as a student to specialist and professional bodies and institutes linked to your subject for news, opportunities and advice eg: Royal Geographic Society, Chartered Institute of Linguists, British Psychology Society, Institute of Physics, Royal Society of Chemistry.
If you’re leaving home and going to university, start thinking about budgeting now. How much will you need to live on per week? Think about getting a part-time job. Check out individual university websites for budget and finance advice. There are also some great tools on Money Savings Expert: https://www.moneysavingexpert.com/students/
What other skills could I acquire in this period before college/uni?
Now could be a good time to embark on that project you always wanted to do: learn a new language, take an online course, learn to cook, develop a professional profile on Linkedin, write a journal or a blog, we are living through unprecedented times – record it. Voluntary work is another option. Charities are grateful for any time you can give. The gov.uk website is a good place to start: https://www.gov.uk/volunteering
Should I think about resitting subjects if I don’t get the grades I need?
Definitely. A re-sit is a great option to achieve the very best grades possible. Many colleges, such as Kings, are very flexible in terms of the number of GCSE or A’ level subjects you retake. You can retake all or just one. You can combine your current subjects with a new subject if you want to.
You may also be able to fit in part-time work or gain work experience at the same time. One attractive option may be to start your A’ levels and sit formal GCSE exams in the first year. At Kings we take a student-centred approach to learning and work with you to create a personalised programme around your own needs.