What’s happening to 2021 GCSE exams?

As a result of the coronavirus pandemic students have missed out on critical education time. Would it really be fair to run the exams next year without allowing for this impact?

The exams regulator, Ofqual, is currently looking at how next years exams might change. Their consultation ran for two weeks and a decision is expected in August.

The need to make adjustments follows the fact that pupils who are sitting their GCSEs in 2021 will have missed around a term and a half of school based learning. And, of course, there is no consistency in how schools have been able to deliver online learning – or how well teens have adapted to it.

It isn’t a simple as simply reducing the syllabus because each school approaches their teaching timetable in a different way. For example, most English Literature courses study a Shakespeare play. Ofqual couldn’t simply say “don’t worry about the play” because some schools will have already covered it. This is a common problem for all subjects.

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There are broadly 4 areas that we might see implemented for next year.

1. Increase teaching time by removing certain elements

A number of subjects have intensive time elements that Ofqual is considering removing. This includes the need to record the spoken elements of English Language and allowing students to watch the teacher perform science experiments, rather than have to do them for themselves. Any changes would have to be on a course by course basis.

2. Allow for continuing health considerations – like social distancing

No one knows what safety measures will continue to be in place next year. Ofqual are playing it safe by looking at what aspects of certain courses are going to be difficult for students. That includes removing the need for Dance students to perform as part of a quarter; allowing Drama students to watch streamed performances rather than live ones, and so on.

3. Content sampling in exam papers

As mentioned above, it simply isn’t possible to shave content from the syllabus. Instead, Ofqual are considering including more optional questions. So, for History, for example, where a course might cover 4 topics students might get to pick three to answer questions on. This would allow schools to focus. However, the Department for Education has said that this should not apply to English, Maths and the Sciences as they are “fundamental” to being able to progress to further education.

4. Hold the exams later than usual

Ofqual is looking at how the exam timetable might work if they start after the half term, on 7th June 2021. This would allow more time for teaching as exams typically start in early May (for iGCSEs).

It is clear that Ofqual want to try to maximise the teaching time available. They also want to reflect the fact that the whole curriculum is unlikely to have been covered in the time available. Of course, there is no simple way to do this, but reducing the pressure on schools and pupils seems to be at the heart of why they are trying.

Regardless of the adaptations that are made, it is obvious is that those pupils who are able to study independently from school will fair best. That is always true, of course, but this year it will be even more pronounced. Consider a situation where there are optional questions in an exam paper: a student who has covered all of the syllabus is able to cherry pick the question they feel strongest about. Whereas a pupil has only studied from the reduced topic set at school won’t have that luxury. And that’s not to mention the usual benefits that come from having revised well; such as reduced anxiety and increased confidence.

For more information about our approach to setting up revision plans why not listen to our podcast episode: “Planning to succeed”: Managing studying and revising at home

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