Ofqual confirms changes to some GCSEs, AS and A levels next year but not to examinations in RS

NATRE responded last month, to the Ofqual consultation on examinations in 2021. You can read our comments here. Ofqual released their decisions on 3rd August regarding the cohort of students who will be taking their GCSE’s, AS or A levels in 2021. There are a few headlines to report.

1. No change to the assessment arrangements for Religious Studies.

The report stated that there will be no change to the assessments in Religious Studies for the GCSE (short and full course) AS or A level. Thus, students will be assessed in the same manner as previous years.

Ofqual did recognise that:

“Many respondents were concerned about covering all the content, given the lost time and difficulty of covering it in a normal year. This was raised for most subjects at GCSE, AS and at A level.”

“Respondents often suggested this could be addressed through question optionality, which was discussed further below. In some subjects, for example, GCSE Religious Studies and GCSE English Literature, parallels were drawn with GCSE history and respondents urged that similar arrangements were made to enable content sampling in their subject.”

However, Ofqual decided against making changes to Religious Studies.

2. No decisions have been made about the dates for the examinations.

No decisions have yet been made with regards to the dates for the examinations for 2021. It is possible that July will be included in the timetable to allow for more teaching time. The reason for the delay is because Ofqual need to consult with other affected parties before making a decision. As they reported:

“While there was support for delaying the exams, to allow more time for teaching, a number of risks and issues were highlighted in the responses, including concerns about the likely impact on the dates by which the results could then be published. The key decision for Ofqual on the timetable is whether to change our rules to allow the exams boards to offer exams in July 2021 as well as in May and June. However, changes to the exam timetable are not for Ofqual alone. We will work with DfE, the exam boards, colleagues in Wales and Northern Ireland, and higher education to undertake a further analysis of the options the risks and the mitigations before taking a decision.”

3.There will be further information on how student outcomes (i.e. grades) are to be protected.

Ofqual are currently considering how the grades or outcomes of students taking the examinations in 2021 can be protected. They have said:

“The Secretary of State has asked us to advise him in the coming months how we might ensure students’ outcomes are protected through our approach to grading next year, as we did to protect the interests of students who took the reformed qualifications for the first time. Our approach- using statistical predictions to guide the first awards of reformed qualifications- worked well to protect the interests of students taking the reformed qualifications and we will consider its use next year. We did not consult on proposal for grading in summer 2021, but we will provide further information in due course.”

Here is a copy of their statement and decisionsdocument on the changes that will be made.

Other related issues:

At the end of July, the Department for Education announced that from September all pupils should return to school. The guidance sets an expectation that “the curriculum should remain broad and ambitious: all pupils continue to be taught a wide range of subjects, maintaining their choices for further study and employment.”

The DfE have advised that when planning for pupils’ return to school in September, subjects should not be removed from the curriculum. In relation to Key Stage 3 the guidance states, “the curriculum should also remain broad from year 7 to year 9 so that the majority of pupils are taught a full range of subjects over the year, including..[..] Religious Education.” Indeed, the suspension of subjects should only occur in “exceptional circumstances” and if this occurs, a school must be able to demonstrate that this is “in the best interests of these pupils and should be subject to discussion with parents during the Autumn term.”

For key stage 4 and 5 the guidance states that, “the vast majority of pupils in year 10 and 11 are expected to continue to study their examination subjects.” A year 11 pupil should only be advised to discontinue a subject in “exceptional circumstances”.

The DfE documentation can be consulted here.

The NATRE summary of the implications of this guidance can be found here.

Nick Gibb's written answer to a Parliamentary question on this subject can be found here.