GCSEs & A levels: Call for local hubs to help ease exams burden in October and November

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Lucie Carlier/MA Education

Grades achieved by students who choose to sit their GCSE and A level examinations in October and November will be based on exam performance alone, with non-exam assessment not being considered, Ofqual has confirmed.

However, headteachers are concerned about the burden delivering a full suite of exams creates and have called for community hubs to be deployed to help ease pressure on space in schools.

Students will be awarded teacher-assessed, calculated grades in GCSEs, AS and A levels this summer after the exams were cancelled in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

Ofqual has confirmed that students will be able to appeal via their school if they believe the process has not been correctly followed or that there has been a mistake. Centres can also appeal if they believe something has gone wrong.

However, students will not be able to challenge the grade given to them by their school or their position in the centre’s rank order. But they will have the option of sitting their exams this autumn.

The exams watchdog received around 3,500 responses to its consultation over running an additional exams series this autumn for students who are unable to receive a grade this summer or who are not happy with their grade.

A statement this week said: “There was strong agreement that exam boards should offer the full suite of exams, with the same number and format of exams as in any normal series.

“Many agreed the series offered an important opportunity for students unable to receive a calculated grade, and others seeking to improve their grade, to take exams.”

However, the exams watchdog says that, with the exception of arts and design, all non-exam assessment is to be removed, and the autumn series will base its grades on examination alone.

Ofqual added: “In line with our proposals, with the exception of art and design, grades will be based on exam performance alone, with no non-exam assessment (NEA).

“While it would be desirable for the autumn series to include NEA, on balance we believe the issues of manageability and fairness raised with us could further disadvantage some students and that it is not in students’ best interests overall.”

The exact timing of the autumn series is to be confirmed “in due course”, but Ofqual is “aiming for AS and A levels to be held in October and GCSEs in November”.

It adds: “We understand the logistical challenges schools and colleges will face in the autumn and we will continue to talk to the sector about this. The Department for Education is exploring ways to minimise additional burdens on centres.”

School leaders have expressed their concern at the burden running a full exam series during the autumn term will create.

The National Association of Head Teachers, said it supports the decision to offer exams for all qualifications, but has suggested using community hubs to ease the pressure in schools.

It comes as a survey of NAHT members found that 75 per cent of the respondents said they lack the space to hold these exams alongside a return to in-person teaching this autumn.

General secretary Paul Whiteman said: “It would be better to use local hubs to accomplish this. An exam series which runs through October and November will be very difficult for schools to manage in a term where they will need to be focused on their current students and mitigating the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on their pastoral wellbeing and academic progress."

The Association of School and College Leaders has similar concerns. General secretary Geoff Barton said: “We are concerned about how schools and colleges will be able to accommodate and manage a full suite of autumn exams alongside the huge challenge of bringing all their pupils back in September, identifying learning gaps, and putting catch-up support in place. All of this will have to be done while managing the risks associated with coronavirus.”

He added: “We would reassure pupils and parents that the process for centre-assessed grades is robust. These qualifications will be every bit as valid as in any other year and will allow young people to progress to the next stage of their lives without hindrance, and without the need to use the autumn series.”

Elsewhere, Ofqual has confirmed that students will not be allowed to challenge the grade or ranking given to them by their centre.

It said: “On balance, we decided it would not be in the interests of students or the fairness of the arrangements overall. Any appeal would have to be undertaken by someone better placed than the student’s teachers to judge their likely grade if exams had taken place – in the unique circumstances of this summer, we do not believe there is any such person.

“In addition, because of the role of the rank order in grading this year, such an appeal would have implications for other students in the cohort: if one student successfully appealed against their position in the rank order, it would have negative implications for other students who would, in turn, need to be given an opportunity to appeal.”

However, if students have concerns about “bias, discrimination or any other factor that suggests that a centre did not behave with care or integrity when determining the centre assessment grade and/or rank order information”, then they should raise this with their school.

Ofqual adds: “In some cases, where there is evidence of serious malpractice on the part of the centre, it may be appropriate to bring those concerns directly to the exam board in the first instance. Where there is evidence, we require exam boards to investigate allegations as potential malpractice or maladministration. We expect such allegations to be rare, but this is an important safeguard for students and their overall confidence in this year’s grading arrangements.”

Chief regulator Sally Collier added: “We, and exam boards, are committed to helping students and their families understand how to access an appeal or make a complaint about bias, discrimination, or another concern. We will provide accessible information and have a helpline available to students and their parents or carers to talk about the appeals process and any other questions they may have about their results this summer.”

  • Ofqual: Consultation on an additional GCSE, AS and A level exam series in autumn 2020 (now closed), June 2020 https://bit.ly/3gd4E9o


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