Q: What happened with exams this year?

The government cancelled GCSE and A-level exams in England in March because of the Covid-19 pandemic. The administrations in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland did the same with their exams.

Q: How will GCSEs and A-levels be graded without exams?

Grades in England will be based on teachers’ assessments and class rankings, a student’s prior attainment (GCSE results for those taking A-Levels, and Sats for those taking GCSEs), and their school’s performance in recent years.

The Department for Education said that exam boards will then “combine this information with other relevant data, including prior attainment, and use this information to produce a calculated grade for each student”.

And if grading judgments in some schools or colleges appeared to have been more severe, or more generous than others across the board, then the exam boards will adjust grades accordingly, the regulator said.

Q: What are the concerns?

The influence of teacher assessments will vary depending on the numbers taking a school’s courses: a course with five or fewer candidates will use the assessments in deciding grades, but larger courses with more than 15 candidates will ignore assessments and rely on prior attainment and a school’s previous results.

Teachers will still have a major say by creating the class rankings that will distribute grades. A pupil put at the top of the ranking will receive the highest grade allotted to that school by Ofqual.

Headteachers have described this as “bewildering” given the time invested by teachers in producing teacher-assessed grades.

At A-level, for large entry subjects such as chemistry, history and mathematics, one exam board has told Tes that on average 60 per cent of grades will have been calculated using a statistical model, rather than using teacher-assessed grades.

Last week’s exam results day in Scotland was described as a “shambles” after almost 125,000 grades were lowered by the exams body.

Education experts in England warn that students in rapidly improving schools – likely to be in the most disadvantaged areas – may be penalised for previous poor results. Research by the Equality Act Review suggests that black, Asian, or minority ethnic students, and those from working-class families are disproportionately affected by the prediction of grades.

A spokesperson for Ofqual has defended the system. “We have extensively tested the model to ensure it gives students the fairest, most accurate results possible and, so far as possible, that students are not advantaged or disadvantaged on the basis of their socioeconomic background or particular protected characteristics, and we will evaluate outcomes.”

Q: Can students resit exams?

Students who are not happy with their results will have the opportunity to resist A-level exams in October or GCSE exams in November.

Ofqual said: “If a student does not feel their grade from the summer reflects their ability, then they have the opportunity to take their exam in autumn, or next summer. If they choose to do this, both grades will stand.”

Q: Can students challenge their results?

Yes, appeals have to be submitted through schools and should be completed by 7 September. Students cannot appeal on academic grounds, but only on the grounds that the process was not followed correctly.

The biggest factors determining the replacement exam grades will be how students are ranked inability and the previous exam results of their school or college.

If students suspect their grade was influenced by bias or discrimination, they can appeal against malpractice through their school or exam centre.

On August 12 The Department For Education announced that evidence from valid mock exams can be considered as part of an appeal.

Education secretary Gavin Williamson said: “By ensuring students have the safety net of their mock results, as well as the chance of sitting autumn exams, we are creating a triple lock process to ensure confidence and fairness in the system.”

Students are also allowed to view their CAGs, which were submitted on their behalf to the exam board. This can be done using the Ofqual CAG request form, which you can get from your school. Students must request these, not parents. Most schools plan to release the CAGs (to those who request them) a week or so after results day anyway.

Q: What to do if you still don’t get the results you want?

There are certainly other options for students who don’t get the results they hoped for.

Universities have been urged by the UK government to be flexible in their admissions ahead of A-level results day. Universities minister Michelle Donelan has written to vice-chancellors asking them, where possible, to hold places for students who appeal until they receive the outcome.

  • Find a course through clearing: Clearing gives students the opportunity to apply for university places that haven’t been filled. You may be able to find a similar course at a different university.
  • Study for a professional or vocational qualification
  • Become an apprentice
  • Apply for an internship
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