How are GCSEs grades assessed this year?

An awful lot has changed over the past 12 months in the world of education. In light of the lockdowns, social distancing, and home learning, Boris Johnson announced in February 2021 that the government had devised a "fair and flexible system" so that students "can progress to the next stage of their education or career" with no child "left behind as a result of learning lost during the pandemic.

Schools minister Nick Gibb described the new approach as "the best system possible to ensure there is consistency and fairness in how teachers submit their grades for their students," to ensure "fairly awarded grades at a time when we don't think it's fair for [students] to sit the exams in the normal way.

So what is the new normal for assessing GCSE grades this year? Read on to discover the latest advice from the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) and Ofqual. 

How does the new system affect pupils?

Pupils won't be sitting external exams this year. Due to the severe disruption to their education, it was recognised that it would be an inequitable way to award grades.  

Instead, teachers will assess pupil's work and tell them which pieces of work they are using to arrive at their overall grade. Pupils will have the chance to voice their concerns about the selected work (e.g. if they feel that it was affected by personal circumstances) but the final decision will be down to the teacher.

The JCQ maintains that 'it should be no easier or harder for you to achieve a grade this year based on your performance than in previous years. For example, a pupil working consistently at a grade 7 should be awarded a grade 7.

How does the new system affect teachers?

In lieu of exams, teachers must assess their students based on a variety of evidence (e.g. class assessments, internal mock exams, coursework) produced by the student about the content that they have been taught. 

To ensure consistency across the school or college, at least two teachers are required to sign off each grade, one of which must be the department leader.

This data-led approach allows teachers to evidence how each pupil's final grade was determined.

How does the new system affect exam boards?

Traditionally, exam boards set and mark exams, and then award the grades. Under the new system, their tasks this year include:

  • Producing guidance for teachers about the standards that match the different grades, so teachers have reference points and benchmarks to work with
  • Checking procedures used by schools and colleges for grading
  • Selecting a sample of schools for checking their grade decisions in detail

What are the key dates for this year's GCSE grades?

It is required that all schools must submit their recommended grades between 26th May and 18th June. Pupils will then get their results on Thursday 12th August.


Will it be possible to appeal against your grades?  

If pupils feel an error has been made or their grade does not fairly reflect their work, they will be able to appeal. It's worth noting that, as there are no exams this year, there won't be grade boundaries, which are a common reason for appealing.

According to Cath Jadhav, Director of Standards and Comparability at the exams, assessments, and qualifications regulator Ofqual, appeals will be submitted to the exam boards by schools and colleges, on behalf of their students.  

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