Apr 15

COVID-19 school shutdown –  How grades will be awarded this Summer

Following the cancellation of exams due to school shutdowns, the UK’s exams regulator has published guidance for schools on how students will be assessed for GCSE and A-level qualifications this Summer.

We explain what Ofqual’s guidance means for grading and how schools are being told to apply it in practice.

Every student will get a grade and rank for each subject

Schools will calculate the grade that each pupil would most likely have achieved if they had been able to sit their exams. 

Also called a centre-assessment, it will be based on school work to date and other evidence of educational attainment held by each school. The grade will be reviewed by heads of department as well as subject teachers.

To complement the grade assessment, Ofqual is also directing schools to provide a ranked order of students within each grade.

So if a school has 12 GCSE maths students with a centre assessment grade of 5, those students need to be ranked from 1 to 12. One would represent the highest level of attainment; two would represent the next highest level of attainment, and so on.

Home-schooled students haven’t been left out

Schools that have accepted entries from students who have been home-schooled or participated in distance learning programmes will have to provide those students with a grade and ranking.

Ofqual says they should be included in the process so long as the head is confident the school and staff have sufficient evidence of the student’s achievement.

If a home-schooled or distance learning student doesn’t have an existing relationship with a school, they will likely need to sit exams in the Autumn to get their grades – though the regulator says it is looking for other options for those students to try and avoid a delay in receiving grades. 

Schools shouldn’t assign extra work

Given the odd timing and an incomplete school year, Ofqual is directing schools to make grade and ranking judgements based on existing evidence. 

That means schools are not required to set additional homework tasks to help determine grades. The regulator says no student should be at a disadvantage if they were unable to complete assignments with deadlines set after schools were closed.

And where additional work has been submitted after schools were shut on 20. March, heads should note any indication of a change in student performance.

Schools aren’t required to send supporting evidence directly to exam boards, but need to retain records in case of any queries about their data. 

Students should not be asked to complete any non-exam assessment work, or submit any marks for non-exam assessment work.

Schools shouldn’t share grades with pupils directly

Schools have been told not to share grades or rank orders with students (or parents/carers) under any circumstances before final results have been issued.

Ofqual is keen to avoid school heads and staff being pressured by students and parents to submit grades aren’t supported by objective evidence.

Although any student can request their personal data under GDPR, exam marks and other information used to determine grades are exempt from disclosure.

There will be limited grounds for appeal

Given the extreme circumstances, normal arrangements for appealing grades have been suspended by Ofqual for this year. The regulator is considering alternative options for making a legitimate appeal, but students should expect that the grounds for any appeal this year will be narrow.

Any student who believes their centre assessment doesn’t reflect their ability will have an opportunity to take exams in Autumn. 

Personal circumstances and disabilities will be considered 

Where reasonable adjustments and/or special access arrangements have been agreed for disabled students, schools’ grade and ranking judgments should consider what the student’s likely achievement would have been with those in place. 

Requests for special consideration, for example, if a student experiences a traumatic event that could impact their performance, will not be considered this year.

Ofqual says grade and ranks should be assessed based on how the student would have performed under ordinary circumstances.

Ofqual may exclude year 10s

Ofqual is proposing that grades  not be issued for pupils in year ten or below. That would mean schools only submitting grades only for students in year 11 and above.

The final decision is still to be made, but the regulator says its primary aim this year is to allow students to move to the next stage of their education or move on to employment or training.

If year ten is excluded from centre assessment, those students will be given a chance to sit exams in future.

Exam boards will still play a role

Exam boards have been told to use a statistical model from Ofqual this year to standardise grades for each subject.

It will bring together evidence like schools’ results in previous years, expected grade distributions at national level, and the prior attainment pupils have demonstrated in class.

That process won’t affect the rank order of pupils. But if one school’s judgments are more or less generous than others, final grades for that school may be adjusted up or down.

In practical terms that would mean students at the top or bottom of the rankings would be moved down or up.

Ofqual has said that the move is meant to align judgements across locations, minimising students from being unfairly disadvantaged or advantaged.

Ofqual believes there won’t be any deliberate inflation of results, but admit that some schools may try and inflate grades. By standardising the process for all schools they hope to minimise the impact.

How Ofqual says grades should be calculated

Grade and ranking judgments have to be based solely on evidence of pupil performance. That includes the following: 

  • Previous results of the school in a given subject
  • Results of non-exam assessment, even if not fully completed
  • Performance in mock exams and class or homework assessments
  • Achievements in subjects like music, drama and PE
  • Records like classwork, bookwork, classroom participation, and progress reviews  
  • AS-levels (for A-level students who took an AS)
  • Performance of this year’s pupils vs previous years