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18th January 2021
Find out what the move to teacher assessment – and potentially externally set assessments – could mean for you and your Medicine application, with exclusive insight from our Head of Academia, Simon Pedley. Simon was previously Post 16 Advisor to Ormiston Academies Trust and has worked with schools throughout the UK.

GCSE and A-Level Exams Cancelled for 2021

GCSE and A-Level exams have been scrapped for 2021.

This was revealed on Monday January 4th, when schools were closed for the lockdown. The only information given at the time was that ‘teacher assessed grades’ would be used, with teachers given ‘training and support’ to ensure consistency.

It’s since been confirmed that all grades will be allocated by teachers, with some moderation by the Department for Education. The government has also agreed that algorithms won’t be used and grades won’t get standardised automatically.

Externally Set Assessments?

In addition, externally set assessments could be used to help teachers grade students. On January 13th, Secretary of State for Education Gavin Williamson wrote to Ofqual requesting they explore this option.

In response to Williamson’s letter, Ofqual’s Chief Regulator Simon Lebus said they would work with the government “to put in place the fairest possible alternative arrangements”.

The letter says: “We know that the more the evidence comes from students’ performance in externally set papers, the fairer and more consistent teachers’ assessments are likely to be, because all students are given the chance to show what they can do in the same way. Appeal arrangements are also likely to be more straightforward. Of course, such an approach will mean teachers have less flexibility in terms of the evidence they could use.”

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Will This Mean A Delay?

If given the green light, these externally set assessments could happen later than usual. As detailed in Williamson’s letter, this is to maximise any remaining teaching time.

Furthermore, the content of these assessments could also be different than expected. “It is my view that the consultation should set out proposals which allow students to be assessed based on what they have learnt, rather than against content they have not had a chance to study,” Williamson wrote.

What Will Teacher Assessed Grades Look Like?

We don’t have the details on what teacher assessed grades will look like at the moment, and how they would work with externally set assessments.

We know that teachers will be given guidance by Ofqual, the exams regulator, on how they should be allocating grades. This guidance will be the result of a consultation with schools which will last at least two weeks and is supposed to be published at the end of February. So it will be a while until we know more.

Are There Other Options?

When the news of exam cancellations broke, we made a prediction that you might need to submit work to your teacher that demonstrates you’re performing at a certain grade level. We still believe this is a fair prediction given what we currently know. This could be individual pieces of work or as a collective portfolio of work or the completion of an externally designed assessment. Teachers could use the guidance given to look at the work as a whole and to assign you a grade. This is a big difference from last year where no student work was required to justify the grade a teacher submitted.

We also said that if the usual 1-9 or A*-U grades are to be allocated then it would seem likely that you’ll be asked to complete work that’s similar to exam questions, as that’s the only way to demonstrate that you’re working at a certain grade level.

If this happens and you’ll have to do work that’s similar to exam questions – this would still be different from traditional exams. In this situation, teachers may have discretion over when this work was completed, what exact questions were asked, and they might be able to give notice of the topics they were assessing in advance. This could well hold true even for externally set assessments.

A lot of this will depend on the guidance, which is yet to be provided. It might be that schools are expected to run a full set of mocks, delivered over a specified period, to get the work from students to allocate grades. Or, if school closures and pupil absences make that difficult, they may be able to get the work from students in chunks in usual class time.

What’s Happening In Scotland?

The Scottish government has scrapped anything that can reasonably be called an exam. Between March and May, schools will be required to collect evidence and submit grades for their students to the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) in each subject.

The SQA will work with schools to support teachers in assessing and moderating students’ work – and will act as a final check on the grades submitted. However, there is no ‘external assessment’. Schools assign grades based on work students have done throughout the year. The SQA essentially acts as a backstop regulator by taking samples of student work and giving feedback to teachers. If things look really fishy, e.g. where samples of student work do not match the grades submitted, they can ask schools to resubmit their grades.

What’s The Plan For Wales?

The Welsh government has announced that they will also be allocating grades using internal assessments that will be designed and marked by teachers. However, these will also be supplemented by external assessments, which will be designed and marked by WJEC (the welsh exam board).

These external assessments will still be different from a standard exam, though not as different as a teacher-designed assessment, because schools can decide when and how to administer the assessments within a given time frame. They will also be told by WJEC the broad topics that will be assessed and so they can inform their students.

The arrangements for external assessments might end up looking similar to what the English government is considering.

What Should I Do?

Keep studying! Keep working and revising. It will definitely be worth practising with previous exam questions. Partly because they are a good way of getting you to assimilate the knowledge from your course, which will be useful no matter what form the assessments take, and partly because you may well be assessed by your teacher using something that looks a lot like an exam question.

Schools will have to provide evidence of student ability to show that their grading is correct. This means that, unlike last year, you will probably need to show what you know, so you can support your teacher’s grading. You will need to keep working in order to be able to do that.

What If Schools Don’t Re-Open As Planned?

This is the million-pound question. Ofqual expects that students will be sitting assessments in schools and colleges – but recognises that this may not be possible. It’s now considering allowing students to sit assessments at home.

We’ll be keeping a close eye on the situation and we’ll update you as things evolve.

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