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Students can look forward to exam results they can trust

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: A levels and GCSEs, Exams, Vocational and technical qualifications

Growing sense of anticipation as students start the final push to exams and assessments

As the long-anticipated and eagerly-awaited break for the Easter holidays arrives, the thoughts of students up and down the country will be turning to their summer exams.

For many of those studying GCSEs and a range of vocational and technical qualifications, it will be a new experience. For others who are sitting A levels, T Levels, or vocational qualifications such as BTECs and Cambridge Technicals at level 3, it will be more familiar.

During this Easter break many students who have exams on the horizon will be devoting time to study and preparation for qualifications that will open doors to their futures – whether that’s further study, an apprenticeship or entering the world of work.

As a teacher and school leader I spent many years preparing classes of students for GCSEs and A levels. In my experience, the vast majority really want to do their best. Of course, I taught many students who needed extra support or a boost to their confidence – preparing for exams is a significant challenge for some. But I also remember vividly how so many students who go through a crisis of confidence rise to the challenge, with the help of their teachers, family and friends. And the pride every parent and teacher shares with the student when that happens is worth its weight in gold.

As Chief Regulator of Qualifications at Ofqual I’m committed to making sure that when students open their results in August, they receive qualifications that stand the test of time and fairly reflect their accomplishments.

Having spent more than 30 years in schools, I know how important it is that young people – as well as their families, future employers and society – trust the qualifications they work so hard for.

Qualifications unlock opportunities in life. A student in my old school who, having come from a family where no-one had studied beyond the age of 16 before, worked incredibly hard for her GCSEs, took science and maths A levels, and managed to secure an apprenticeship with Jaguar Land Rover, conditional on high A level grades. Those degree apprenticeships are very competitive. She and her parents could hardly believe it when they opened that envelope in August. It only happened because she was motivated to work for her qualifications to achieve a better future for herself.

As students take their exams and assessments, they can be confident that the rules are the same for everyone – that’s at the heart of fairness. Everyone sits them at the same time under the same conditions, and they’re marked by expert examiners who have no preconceptions about a student’s ability. In fact, examiners don’t even know the students’ names, which schools they attend or even which part of the country they’re from.

We require exam boards and awarding organisations to have robust quality assurance processes for marking and moderating in place. Once exam scripts have been marked, highly experienced examiners agree grade boundaries which reflect any slight changes in the difficulty of each particular exam from previous years. This process ensures that year on year it is no harder or easier to get a particular grade. Each student then gets a grade based on their own individual performance in that exam. There’s no set quota of grades – I can’t stress this strongly enough. Grades are awarded purely on a student’s performance. And if you look back across the years, there are variations in the number of students getting any particular grade, from the highest to the lowest. That’s because the performance of students naturally varies a little from year to year.

A student who needs a grade 4 at GCSE English to enrol on a college course, for example, or an aspiring medical student aiming for an A in chemistry to get into university, can rest assured that, if they perform well enough, they’ll get the qualifications they need.

Studying requires effort and self-discipline, time and energy. Students who make that investment should find their growing sense of anticipation being rewarded in August when they get their results. Qualifications open doors to the future – they are worth that investment.

I wish all students preparing for qualifications the best in their studies.

Sir Ian Bauckham CBE
Chief Regulator

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