DfE’s Announcement: What does it mean for your child’s exams?

Life may slowly be returning to normal outside of school. However, the Department for Education’s announcement last month made it clear that the effect of COVID on assessments will be felt for a while yet. Although lots of things were announced, it’s obvious exam boards have been left to make a lot of decisions between now and the summer exam period. 

The decisions were made by the DfE after analysing the results of a public consultation carried out by Ofqual (the exam regulatory body) on the “package of measures to help mitigate the impact of the disruption on students’ education.” The measures have been proposed as a way of ensuring that students have a level playing field when it comes to assessments. Ofqual have stressed that the changes have been decided as a way to address “the variation in students’ experiences regarding remote learning over the past two years”.

The consultation gathered views on the following:

  • Choice of topics in GCSE English Literature, History, Ancient History.
  • Choice of content in GCSE Geography.
  • Changes to the requirements for the delivery of practical activities in Science subjects, and changes to the assessment of Art and Design.
  • The provision of advance information on the focus of the content of exams for the majority of GCSE, AS and A-level subjects.
  • The provision of support materials in GCSE Mathematics, Physics and Combined Science exams.

Further to this, decisions need to be made about grade boundaries next summer after TAGS saw a record number of students achieving top grades. Indeed, the government’s announcement said: 

Ofqual is considering how best to grade qualifications next summer in a way that is as fair as possible to next year’s cohort of students and also those who took exams in previous years or will take them in the future.

DEPARTMENT FOR EDUCATION – DECISIONS: PROPOSED CHANGES TO THE ASSESSMENT OF GCSES, AS AND A LEVELS IN 2022

So what did they announce?

The consultation showed that the majority of respondents supported all the measures put forward by Ofqual’s analysis, therefore the DfE decided to implement the policy proposals.

The government has introduced a choice of topics or content in some GCSE exams and exam boards will give advance information about the focus of the content of exams, designed to provide guidance for revision for students ahead of summer exams, and study aids will be allowed in some exams.

OFQUAL AND JO SAXON – OFQUAL’S APPROACH TO GRADING EXAMS AND ASSESSMENTS IN SUMMER 2022 AND AUTUMN 2021

A summary of the decisions 

  • Advanced information for all GCSE, AS and A level subjects (except GCSE English literature, history, ancient history and geography) – this will help students focus their revision in the run up to exams. The exam boards will need to change how they assess the subjects to reflect the fact not all topics will be assessed. 
  • Optional topics and content for GCSE English literature, history, ancient history and geography – having this choice of topics will help teachers focus their teaching. 
  • Practicals in some subjects for GCSE, AS and A-level will be done by demonstration – this won’t affect the physical assessments but will mean that schools which are unable to safely carry out practicals as a class will observe practical demonstrations by their teacher or watch demonstration videos online.
  • Students will be given a formulae sheet for GCSE mathematics – copies of these formulae sheets will be given in advance to allow students to become familiar with them. 
  • Students will be given a revised equation sheet for GCSE physics and combined science – like the formulae sheets mentioned above, the equation sheets will cover all the equations required by students so they can focus on applying their knowledge. 
  • Students taking GCSE, AS and A level art and design will be assessed on their portfolio only – To “mitigate the pressures of time that the pandemic has created” as well as reduce risk of Covid transmission, Ofqual have proposed that these qualifications should be assessed only by a student portfolio, rather than by a portfolio and a timed exam.

This new policy makes it clear that changes to assessments are not meant to impact on what students will be taught between now and the spring term. For the majority of subjects, Ofqual wants teachers to aim to cover the whole specification even if only part of it will be assessed. This marks a change from Teacher Assessed Grades in 2021 where teachers were able to pick which topics from the specification they would teach and assess their students on. Advance information about the content of assessments will allow teachers and students to focus their revision in the run up to exams. 

The Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) said:

​​The policy intention of providing advance information is that it will support students’ revision. It will enable teachers to plan to adapt their teaching in the second half of the spring term if necessary, in the time before the examination

JCQ – ADVANCE INFORMATION FOR OFQUAL REGULATED GENERAL QUALIFICATIONS

When will the advanced information be released?

Any advance information will be released by 7th February at the latest. The government has argued that leaving it until the spring term provides flexibility in case the pandemic worsens and teaching is disrupted again. However, the lateness of this scheduled announcement has angered a lot of teachers, who feel that such tardiness is unwarranted, considering it has been clear for a while that assessments would need to be adapted. 

 Whilst some respondents agreed with a flexible approach to the timing of the release, they nonetheless urged that advance information be released as soon as possible to help teachers to focus on the delivery of the required material for the exams.

DEPARTMENT FOR EDUCATION – DECISIONS: PROPOSED CHANGES TO THE ASSESSMENT OF GCSES, AS AND A LEVELS IN 2022

Grade boundaries

This years’ exams saw an unprecedented rise in the number of students achieving top grades. Moreover, an unfair proportion of these top grades were achieved by private school students. Such grades can’t be sustained so Ofqual also set out a pathway to get results back down to pre-pandemic levels. 

Ofqual says: 

As we return to summer exams, in 2022 exam boards will set the grade boundaries based on a profile that reflects a midpoint between 2021 and pre-pandemic grading.

OFQUAL AND JO SAXON – OFQUAL’S APPROACH TO GRADING EXAMS AND ASSESSMENTS IN SUMMER 2022 AND AUTUMN 2021

This means that once students’ work and exams have been assessed senior examiners will set grade boundaries which will result in lower grades than those seen this year. Don’t be surprised to see headlines reflecting this come next summer. It’s important to remember that students won’t be getting lower grades due to a decrease in their knowledge but because of the setting of grade boundaries by the exam boards. 

Summer Results Day 

This year results day for both GCSEs and A-levels took place earlier than usual and took place within the same week. However, in 2022 they will go back to normal. A-level results day will take place on 18th August and GCSE results day on 25th August.

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As we said at the beginning, it’s clear there are many decisions left to be made. The earlier exam boards announce the advance information, the more time teachers have to adjust to the changes to better prepare their students for exams. However, much to the dismay of teachers and students, it looks like they will be waiting until February for any real clarity.

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