Thank you for contacting me about GCSE and A level exams results this year.
While everyone would have preferred exams and assessments to have gone ahead this summer, cancelling them was the right decision to help tackle the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.
The grades students are receiving will be based on the judgement of their school or college and will have been moderated by exam boards to make sure the same standard is applied to all students. In addition the Education Secretary has introduced a ‘triple lock’ to give students an added safety net. Students will be able to accept their calculated grade, appeal on the basis of a valid mock result or sit an exam in the autumn. There is no perfect replacement for exams, but this plan will give everyone the confidence in these results and ensure fairness for all young people so that they can progress to the next stage of their lives.
Despite the unprecedented circumstances, grades have remained broadly stable with a 2.5 percentage point rise in As and A*s at A level. A record number of 18 year olds have been accepted into university. A record number from the most disadvantaged backgrounds in England have been accepted into university – up 7.3 per cent from last year.
Students who would like to use a valid mock result will be able to do so through the appeals process, with individuals notifying their school or college who will provide evidence of their mock results to their exam board. Schools will also be able to appeal if their cohort is not representative of previous years, for example if the school has had new leadership or if this year has unusually talented students.
Schools and colleges have provided to exam boards a centre assessment grade for each student in every GCSE, AS or A level subject they planned to take this summer, and a rank order of students by their expected performance.
Exam boards have standardised centre assessment grades using a model which factors in the expected national outcomes for this year’s students, the prior attainment of students, and previous results of the school or college. The model aligns standards between different schools and colleges and ensures that national results are broadly in line with those in previous years. Overall, students’ results will be no worse and indeed national results this summer are higher than last year’s.
A substantial number of students will have received at least one grade that has been adjusted. While some will have been adjusted upwards, on average, centres have submitted grades that are higher than would be expected. That is not surprising, given that teachers have not been able to develop a common approach to grading in advance; and they naturally want to do their best for their students. If centre assessment grades were not statistically standardised, 2020 results would be, on average, 12 percentage points better than in 2019 at A level and 9 percentage points at GCSE. Improvement on such a scale in a single year has never occurred and to fail to standardise grades would significantly undermine the value of them for students. In a normal year, around 75 per cent of students do worse than their predicted grade.
These adjustments mean universities, colleges and employers can be confident this year’s results carry the same value, and students can compete on a level playing field for opportunities with students from previous and future years.
Ofqual has said it is committed to doing all it can to make sure students are not disadvantaged by these unprecedented circumstances, including allowing for an appeal where appropriate. Whilst the vast majority of grades awarded will be accurate, it is essential that there is a robust appeals process in place.
Students will be able to appeal – through their school or college – if they believe the process this summer was not followed correctly in their case; and centres themselves can appeal if they believe something has gone wrong in processing their results. Ofqual has confirmed that schools can appeal if they can show evidence grades are lower than expected because previous cohorts are not sufficiently representative of this year’s students.
In addition, following the Education Secretary's announcement of the triple lock to provide additional assurance for students, evidence from valid mock exams can be considered as part of an appeal. Ofqual are working to implement this as fairly as possible and to determine what standards of evidence will be required for the appeal.
Any student who would like to improve their grade in a subject will have an opportunity to take exams in the autumn.
In addition, the National Careers Service will operate an exam results helpline to ensure that young people receiving their GCSE and A Level results this summer can get advice from qualified advisers.
I understand that this has been an anxious time for many young people and their families. I know that Ministers have sought to reassure them as far as possible. You may be interested to know that Ofqual has published guidance, including a student guide at https://www.gov.uk/guidance/your-results-what-next, which outlines how this year's process works and what students’ next steps might be, including if they are unhappy with their results.
Students who have missed the grades for their university offer are also advised to contact their university directly. Universities have committed to be flexible and most are considering a wide variety of factors in addition to the grades awarded.