Students unhappy with grades can take exams in all GCSEs and A-levels in autumn

The exams regulator has confirmed the additional exam series for pupils who want to improve their teacher-assessed grades.

School children
School children

Students who are unhappy with teacher-assessed grades will be able to take the “full suite” of GCSE, AS and A-level exams in the autumn, England’s exams regulator has confirmed.

But students’ grades from the autumn series will be based on exams alone with no coursework – except in art and design qualifications, Ofqual has said.

It comes after the summer exams were cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Instead, GCSE and A-level students in England will be awarded calculated grades in August based on teacher assessment.

Schools and colleges have also been told to rank students within each grade for each subject and to submit these judgments to the exam boards.

The autumn exam series is for students who would like to improve the grade they receive, or for those who are unable to receive a calculated grade.

Following a consultation, Ofqual has confirmed that exam boards must make exams available in all the GCSE, AS and A-level qualifications that they had planned to run in the summer in the autumn term.

It comes after head teachers warned that schools will struggle to host the full range of exams for students unhappy with their calculated grades, while also coordinating a wider return to the classroom.

It would be a “significant challenge” to accommodate exams alongside face-to-face lessons, while providing vital support to students who have been out of school for six months, school leaders said.

Following the consultation on this year’s exams, the watchdog has also confirmed that individual pupils will not be allowed to challenge teacher-assessed grades, or their position in the school or college’s rank order.

“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,” Ofqual said.

But a school or college can still appeal to the exam board if it believes it made an error when submitting a grade or rank order information, or if it believes an exam board made a mistake with a pupils’ grade.

Ofqual expects exam boards to investigate evidence of “serious malpractice” raised by students who have concerns about bias or discrimination surrounding teacher-assessed grades and rank order.

“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,” the exams regulator has said.

A-level pupils will get their results on August 13 and GCSE students will be given grades on August 20.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, 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 said: “We had argued for the autumn series to be restricted to A-levels, and GCSE English and maths.

“However, we understand the pressure on the Government and Ofqual to provide the option of a full suite of exams in the event that pupils and parents are unhappy with centre-assessed grades in August.”

Ofqual has said it will confirm the exact timing of the exams in due course, but it is aiming for AS and A-levels to be held in October and GCSEs in November.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “An exam series which runs through October and November will be very difficult for schools and colleges 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.”

He added: “The Government and Ofqual must act to ensure that schools and colleges are given significant support, including the options of setting up local hub centres, to be able to meet the needs of students wanting to take these exams as well as focus on what is needed for their current students.”

Sally Collier, chief regulator at Ofqual, said: “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.”

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