St John Plessington Catholic College

GCSEs and A Levels in Summer 2021 - FAQs

Dear parents, carers, Year 11 and Year 13 pupils

I am very much aware that you have many questions regarding the awarding of grades for GCSEs and A Levels in Summer 2021. Please find below the answers to some FAQs which I hope you will find helpful. 

How will grades be awarded this summer?

Grades for GCSEs, A levels, and most other qualifications including applied generals will be based on a process involving teacher assessment against national standards, internal quality assurance, and external quality assurance by the exam boards.

The national process defined by the Department for Education and the exams’ regulator, Ofqual is as follows:

1. Teachers will assess students against a national standard, which will be defined by the exam boards before the Easter break.

2. Departments will submit grades which will be quality assured by the college. This internal quality assurance process will have to be signed off by the exam board to ensure it is rigorous and in line with national standards.

3. Our college results will be quality assured externally by the exam boards, which may include random sampling of our college’s evidence.

4. If the exam boards are confident in our submitted results, then the exam boards will award students these as their awarded grades.

5. If students do not think their results are accurate, they will have the right to appeal.

So, do teachers award the grade?

Simply: no. The grade students achieve will start with their teacher’s assessment of their performance across a range of evidence. This is against a nationally-defined standard, not the teacher’s own opinion. This assessment is then subject to both internal and external quality assurance before the final grade is awarded by the exam body as usual.

Does this mean grades are decided by an algorithm?

No, unlike what was initially planned for last year, students’ grades will not be changed by a formula. The internal and external quality assurance measures will all be done by humans, not an algorithm. There is no limit on the achievement of students, providing we have evidence that they are working at that grade.

What about loss of learning / impact of Covid?

This year, teachers will only assess students on content they have been taught – because of the continued disruption of the pandemic. This means students will not be disadvantaged if they individually, their whole class, or whole year group have been unable to complete their full course. However, grades can only be submitted on the basis of the evidence we have of students’ performance, even if that evidence covers less of the course than usual.        

What happens now if my child is entitled to access arrangements in examinations?

Students who would usually have extra time in the exams will benefit from the same arrangements in teacher assessment.

Will the standards required for the same grade be different between different schools and colleges?

No, the standard against which teachers will be assessing students is set nationally by the exam boards. This is the standard that will be used during external quality assurance and appeals to ensure consistency and fairness across the system.

What evidence will be used?

Teachers are able to draw on a range of assessment evidence from across a student’s study of the course, up until 11 June. This may include homework tasks, mock exams, trial exams and papers set by the exam boards. This may include evidence from before the second lockdown, as well as evidence from March – June. The exam boards are producing assessment materials that will be sent to us before Easter. Different departments may use different sources of evidence, and there is no requirement for any one type of assessment to be used – it’s about a student’s performance across a range of evidence.

The exam boards are only giving out past papers, how is this fair?

Most of the assessment materials provided by the exam boards will be drawn from past papers, although there will be new questions as well. There is significant research that even if students have seen assessment questions before, it does not reduce the validity of the assessment. Furthermore, exam board questions are only one of the many pieces of evidence we will use to assess students this summer.

Can students and parents make the case for why a student should get a higher grade?

Our teachers are already using their professional expertise to assess students on the content they have been taught. Teachers are unable to submit higher grades for students unless they have evidence that they are consistently working at this level. If teachers submit higher grades without evidence they are committing exam malpractice.

In 2020, undue pressure placed on teachers by students or parents to increase grades was also considered to be exam malpractice. It is likely to be the same for 2021. 

If students or parents are found to be putting teachers or leaders under undue pressure to increase grades, then this matter will be referred to the exam boards and an investigation into malpractice may ensue. This may result in the student’s exam certification being removed entirely if malpractice is deemed to have taken place. 

Can students discuss their grades with teachers?

Teachers will be able to discuss which evidence they are using to inform their judgement with students, including marked or graded pieces of work.

However, we are not allowed to disclose the final submitted grade we give to the exam board. 

Students should not attempt to second-guess the grade submitted, as teachers will be using a range of evidence to inform their final judgement. Students must not pressure teachers to reveal the grades they are submitting, or lobby to increase the grades, as doing so may be considered exam malpractice.

What should students do to improve their grades?

The best thing students can do is to continue to attend classes, learn, act on feedback from their teachers, revise, and read around their subject. Their grade will be based on their performance, and so their outcomes are ultimately in their hands.

I trust you will find this information useful and reassuring. Further subject specific plans  will be provided after Easter once the exam boards have issued further guidance to schools.

Thank you for your ongoing support  and cooperation.

Yours sincerely

Ms Maria Sharratt