Examinations 2021: what we know so far

Following the conclusion of the Ofqual consultation the Government has outlined its plans for examinations 2021.

Teacher Assessed Grades (TAGs) will take the place of Centre Assessed Grades, and although detailed guidance in relation to how TAGs will be calculated is yet to be published, we know there will be no algorithm and no requirement to factor in previous years’ results. As in 2020, teachers will be asked to draw on a wide range of evidence when making assessments.

For GCSE, AS and A-level courses, exam boards have been asked to publish questions, referred to in the press as “mini exams”, which teachers will have the option of using as part of the evidence base when determining TAGs. Students will only be assessed on what they have been taught, and all students will be able to appeal their TAGs.

Detailed guidance is due to be published before the end of the spring term. We will then produce fuller guidance on how this will impact on school and colleges as well as holding a webinar on ‘How to Avoid Legal Claims’, the date is to be confirmed.

In the meantime, it is of note that schools will not be required to consider appeals of the grades awarded, other than where there has been an administrative or processing error. Instead, schools will appeal to the exam board on the student’s behalf. The exam board will only revise a student’s grade if it finds the evidence on which the grade was determined cannot reasonably support that grade, rather than as a result of marginal differences of opinion. In order to allow issues that may have impacted on grades (e.g. absence, illness, reasonable adjustments) to be addressed before they are submitted, schools will be expected to tell their students the evidence on which their grade will be based. Given the level of transparency that will be required, and in order to avoid legal challenges in any event, schools should put clear processes in place that will enable them to evidence the basis for the exam grades awarded. Pending finalisation of these processes, our advice is:

  • There is no need to panic – there will be ample time to formulate a sensible and compliant approach, and in any event it would be premature to set on any particular path before the more detailed guidance is published later this term;
  • Teaching staff should be advised not to give indications to students and parents about TAG processes, and should direct queries towards central staff who should be briefed to adopt a clear and consistent message. Should there be a high volume of queries, headteachers may wish to issue a brief reassuring message in newsletters etc;
  • Anxious students and parents can be reminded that, in addition to the right on the part of all students to appeal TAGs, there will be a full autumn exam series. Wherever possible, students should be encouraged to focus on their own learning over the coming summer term;
  • The messaging so far has stressed that students will only be assessed on “what they have been taught”. It is not yet clear how bespoke this approach is intended to be and whether schools and colleges will need to consider individual students’ attendance records when making assessments, or interpret this more broadly at cohort level. This is something to keep an eye out for in the more detailed guidance.

Currently, the most detail can be found in Gavin Williamson’s letter to Ofqual here.

The law and practice referred to in this article or webinar has been paraphrased or summarised. It might not be up-to-date with changes in the law and we do not guarantee the accuracy of any information provided at the time of reading. It should not be construed or relied upon as legal advice in relation to a specific set of circumstances.

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