Students across England will receive AS, A level and GCSE results next week, as well as results for many vocational and technical qualifications. Students will get AS and A level results on Tuesday and GCSE results on Thursday. Here’s a reminder of how grades were determined this year, and some information about possible next steps.
Summer 2021 grades have been determined by teachers – they’re known as teacher assessed grades, or TAGs. Exams did not go ahead because the different levels of Covid-associated disruption across the country meant that it would not be fair if all students took the same exams given that some schools and colleges have been able to teach more of the curriculum than others.
TAGs are based on evidence of students’ work, but only on the content that they have been taught. This was to help level the playing field between those students who had missed a great deal of teaching time and those who had not. The path of the pandemic has been uncertain, so teachers were given flexibility to decide on an appropriate range of evidence that would allow them to assess how their students had performed. That could include things like mock exams, class tests, and non-exam assessment already completed.
Exam boards also provided assessment materials for schools and colleges to use, if desired, as part of the assessment process – past paper questions, often broken down by topic area, so teachers could select questions to reflect what they have taught. Schools and colleges made decisions about the best way to use this material, and other evidence depending on their particular circumstances.
Exam boards also provided grade descriptors and guidance about how to assess students. We and JCQ provided advice about how teachers could make objective judgements.
Schools and colleges put in place internal quality assurance processes. They were required to make sure at least two people were involved in each judgement and the head of each school or college had to sign off the grades. Teachers and senior leaders in schools and colleges have worked incredibly hard to make sure that judgements were made, quality assured and submitted on time. They also submitted examples of students’ work to the exam boards. Initial findings from our survey of teachers and headteachers suggests that, despite the increased workload, they are confident in the integrity of the results for students.
Exam boards also put in place external quality assurance arrangements, checking each centre’s policy, reviewing the profile of grades submitted, and reviewing samples of student work. In the vast majority of cases, they found that grades were supported by the evidence. Where exam boards had concerns, these were followed up with the school or college and in some cases, teachers reconsidered their judgements and submitted revised grades.
What does this mean for results next week?
As we said in February, the different arrangements this year and the impact of the pandemic mean that overall results are likely to look different from previous years. That’s not surprising. Instead of all students taking the same set of exams, different schools and colleges assessed their students on different sub-sets of the curriculum, depending on the extent of disruption. But although the way students were assessed was different, the results day experience should be relatively normal. Individual students will receive their grades just as they would in any other year.
The priority for summer 2021 was to make sure that students could get grades that would help them move on to the next stage of their education or training, despite the disruption they have experienced. The grades next week will do just that. If students think there has been an error affecting their grade, they will be able to appeal and exam boards will prioritise appeals where the student needs the outcome of that appeal to take up a firm university offer. There is more information, including about appeals, in our student guide.
Students this year have been resilient and they should be proud of the grades they will receive next week. We wish them well for the next stages of their lives.
Director of Standards and Comparability at Ofqual