Webinar Q&A – GCSE and A-Level Exams: What is Actually Going On?

David Boddy answers a few questions that we didn’t have time to cover on our recent webinar, GCSE and A-Level Exams: What is Actually Going On?

My son is an SEN student who did not attend school between late October 2019 and early February 2020 for personal reasons. He did not sit his GCSEs in November and was not correctly assessed upon entry to Year 11. His SEN makes it difficult for him to learn in a classroom setting and he relies on Tutor Doctor support to be successful in his secondary education. Do you have any advice about how he will be assessed and assigned a grade and what I can do to ensure it is fair?

It will be difficult for him to be awarded an “Assessed Grade” with any accuracy and from what you say, it is unlikely to be fair. Teachers will have some data on him, but probably not sufficient. I think the fairest way is to prepare him to take the GCSEs in the early autumn. Before the exams, please make sure that he has been granted the extra time he is allowed as an SEN student, plus any other support in the exams that he is entitled to. This is the best way to ensure fairness and accuracy.

How many pieces of evidence will be required to be submitted in order to grade students?

That will be a decision for the Head of the Exam Centre. As a basis, most Exam Centre Heads will use the Mock Exams, any previous in-school assessments ( such as Yr 10 or Yr 12 exams), at least three pieces of marked written work and averages of marked weekly assignments or homework. What they will also do is compare the ‘draft’ assessed grades against any data collected when the pupil joined the school, such as the CEM diagnostic tests managed by Durham University. ( Vast numbers of schools sit these tests)

My son’s school is planning to run further Year 11 assessments w/c 4 May. Will this result contribute to teacher assessments?

Your son’s school may be ‘short’ of reliable data and would hope to use the results of this assessment as evidence in coming to his “assessed grades.” However, this would be rather unusual as all work submitted after March 20 (the date of lock down) requires “careful consideration” before being accepted as part of the grade assessment process. If the marks for this assessment in May are notably higher than any previous marks, or notably lower, they will be “adjusted” to put them in line with other assessed pieces of work prior to the lock down.

If GCSEs are not held as a “dry run” should AS Levels be reintroduced?

That’s an interesting idea but is unlikely to happen. A Levels are now taught in linear fashion and to assess them midway through involves considerable changes to the way the curriculum is delivered. I suspect there will not be time – nor appetite by the teachers – for this. I would, however, hope that schools create some “real-time exam opportunities” for students to have several dry runs at taking public exams before they have to be faced. The space that is normally taken by AS Exams in the summer of Yr 12 will now be used for resits of the GCSE exams.

You mentioned that the system has been devised to reduce teacher bias towards certain students and how it affects their grade, e.g. if a teacher and student have fallen out recently. Can you just clarify how the structure of this assessment now removes that subjectivity?

At least two teachers who have either taught the pupil, or who know the pupil in that subject, are involved in the determination of the assessment grade, subject by subject. The two teachers will usually be the one in the classroom and the Head of Department. If the Head of Department is the pupil’s teacher, another senior teacher, such as Academic Deputy Head, will be involved. The second step is the Ranking of each pupil. This is something that will involve the whole Department of teachers, or in the case of a small school, the Head, the Academic Deputy and the Head of Department. All teachers have to agree on the Ranking. So personal preferences of teachers will at best be eliminated or at least diluted.

If you are not happy with your assessed grade and choose to sit the Autumn exams, but your grade goes down, which grade is counted, the assessed grade or the examination grade?

The current guidance is that ALL the attempts ‘stand,’ including the Assessed grade. The student could then use the best one as evidence for future studies.

Will there be a random sample audit done on schools to check that the submitted assessments are supported by evidence?

No, although Exam Boards have the right to question data which is not in line with what the school would be expected to produce. In cases such as that they are likely to ask for evidence supporting the assessed grade.

Will teachers be given an assessment form so that a similar range of data of evidence can be submitted for all the students in one subject?

No, although the Department of Education and the Exam Boards will be delivering a detailed set of guidance to schools as to what is expected and allowable evidence in determining the assessed grades. The Headteachers, the Academic Heads, the Departmental Heads and the teaching staff are being trusted in this process.

Resource: www.ofqual.gov.uk

Guidance: Summer 2020 grades for GCSE, AS and A Level, Extended Project Qualification and Advanced Extension Award in Maths.