Nearly 100,000 students who took GCSE English language and maths exams in the November series in England will collect their results today (13 January 2022).
I am delighted that these exams were able to go ahead, and that they were taken by such a large number of students in schools, colleges and other exam centres across the country. Running an exam series where everyone takes the same assessments at the same time and in the same way, as the qualifications are designed, gives students the fairest chance to show what they know, understand and can do. I look forward to more students having this opportunity in the summer.
GCSE English language and maths are usually available every November, but entry is normally restricted to students aged 16 or over. This November, students were also eligible to enter if they were disappointed with their summer 2021 grade and wanted to improve this, or if they were unable to get a grade in the summer.
Ofqual previously announced that, to be as fair as possible to students, exam boards should seek alignment with summer 2021 when grading in the November series. This is the same approach as in November 2020, when exam boards sought alignment with summer 2020.
Overall results for the November series for GCSE English language and maths have been published by JCQ. This includes a breakdown of results for each subject. As the students are unlikely to be representative of those entering in a typical November or summer series, it is not possible to make comparisons between the outcomes this November and in previous years – or between outcomes in November and summer.
I must caution that it is also not possible to make meaningful comparisons between results for different exam boards. As in any exam series, one exam board might have a very able entry for a subject and see far more students getting higher grades, while another exam board might have a less able entry and might see much lower overall results.
Nearly two-thirds of entries in the November series were from students that also have a grade from summer 2021. For these students, we have compared their grade from the summer with the grade they have achieved in November.
As outlined in a previous blog post, in a typical year, not all students who re-sit their exams improve their grade. This year, the November series was not a typical re-sit series, since students had not taken exams in the summer. We therefore cannot assume that every student will have improved their grade. Our analyses show that, of the students that have a grade from the summer, around a third have improved their grade, just over 40% have the same grade, and just under 25% received a lower grade in November.
Students who have not improved their grade will still be able to use their grade from the summer. Our 2021 student guide aims to answer questions students might have about their GCSEs, AS and A levels.
The aim of grading in November 2021 was to seek alignment, as far as possible, with summer 2021. This is different to summer 2022, when the aim of grading will be to reflect a midpoint between summer 2019 and summer 2021, to provide a safety net for students. So, you should not make any assumptions about likely grade boundaries in summer 2022 based on those for the November series.
As you will be aware, we have worked together with the Department for Education and the exam boards to allow advance information about the focus of the content of exams in summer 2022. Combined with the choice of content or topics in some GCSEs, and a generous approach to grading, this constitutes a package of unprecedented aid and support, reflecting the disruption caused by the pandemic. Because this package as a whole is new, it is important that people don’t try to predict grade boundaries. The most important thing to remember is that boundaries will only be determined once expert markers have marked exam papers.
The pandemic has been tough for students, but they have shown considerable resilience in the face of disruption caused to education, and I once again pay tribute to this. I would also like to thank all the school, college and exam centre staff who will have worked so hard to put on the autumn exam series in the interest of their students during this challenging time.
Dr Jo Saxton