Ofqual confirms changes to GCSE exams in 2021.

Following the consultation paper in July, Ofqual (the body responsible for regulating exams in England) has now announced what changes are being rolled out for students taking their exams next year.

We’re summarising the changes to English Literature here.
SPOILER: It’s not just ‘Poetry is being dropped’.

We’re summarising the changes to English Literature here.
SPOILER: It’s not just ‘Poetry is being dropped’.

The changes are in response to impact that the Coronavirus pandemic has had on teaching during a critical time for students.

The full outcome and proposed changes can be found on the government website – the majority of those changes were implemented.

Summary of the GCSE 2021 changes

We’ve summarised the key changes. At the end of the document you’ll find a subject breakdown for any changes that are being made.

Optional questions in English Literature, History and Ancient History. But not in other subjects.

For English Literature, the studying of Shakespeare is mandated but students will only have to answer questions on 2 of the remaining 3 content areas. By way of example; in addition to Macbeth, a student might answer questions on “A Christmas Carol” and “An Inspector Calls” but not study a poetry anthology.

In History and Ancient History, exam centres will be able to specify the choice of topics.

It was considered that use of optional questions in other subjects might lead to confusion and result in some students making choices they weren’t well equipped to answer.

Removal of requirement of mandatory fieldwork.

This affects subjects such as Geography, Geology and Environmental Studies. Schools are not going to be asked to confirm that students took part in fieldwork and the questions relating to fieldwork should be removed from the exams.

Observation rather than participation in practicals.

Courses which contain practical elements, such as the Sciences, Food Preparation and Engineering, will not require students to undertake the practicals themselves. Instead it will be sufficient for them to observe a teacher.

No need to submit recordings of spoken language assessments

This applies to English Language as well as Modern Foreign Languages. For MFL there will be a pass/merit/distinction endorsement that will sit alongside the 1-9 grading whereas it would normally form part of the grade.

Consideration of Public Health requirements, as required

A number of subjects need to accommodate potential public health requirements, for example, Food Preparation and PE. Exam boards are being asked to look into these.

No changes to the duration or format of exams.

The is no recommendation to change the time or format of the exams, other than to accommodate the required changes. It was felt that this would be too disrupting and unsettling. This is especially because there is no experience of any new format. You would imagine though that certain exams, like English Literature, might now be shorter given the reduced content.

No decision yet on moving the exam period

Many of the respondents felt that starting the exam period later in the year was a good thing. But not if that meant that results were delayed. This has meant that Ofqual have yet to make an announcement about this.

Make sure you’re ready for 2021 with the GCSE Revision Bundle.

Ofqual’s proposed changes to the assessment of GCSEs in 2021

The table below covers each subject and the changes that are being recommended to exam boards.

GCSE subjectDecision
Ancient historyChoice of topics on which students have to answer questions, giving centres choice over the content that must be taught.
Art and designAssessment to be portfolio only. Permit (1) exam boards to carry out moderation by photographic and/or digital portfolio.
AstronomyAllow the exam board to modify the requirements for the observational activities to allow students to observe rather than carry out the activities themselves.
Biblical HebrewNo change to assessment arrangements.
BiologyPermit observation of demonstrations and/or simulations to cover required apparatus and techniques.
BusinessNo change to assessment arrangements.
ChemistryPermit observation of demonstrations and/or simulations to cover required apparatus and techniques.
Citizenship studiesRequire exam boards to provide guidance on citizenship action in context of public health restrictions.
Classical civilisationNo change to assessment arrangements.
Classical GreekNo change to assessment arrangements.
Combined sciencePermit observation of demonstrations and/or simulations to cover required apparatus and techniques.
Computer sciencePermit programming project to be undertaken in unsupervised time.
DancePerformance Assessment: Require each student to perform 1 or more dances with a combined duration of at least 1.5 minutes (if all solo performance) or 2 minutes (if including performance as part of a group). No requirement for students to perform as part of a group. Solo only performances should be designed to assess the full range of content expectations, with the exception of ‘sensitivity/physical relationship to other dancers’. Exam board to provide clarification about their requirements. Requirement to submit complete an unedited audio-visual recording of the performed dances from the perspective of the audience.

Choreography Assessment: Require each student to choreograph either a complete solo dance of at least 1.5 minutes in duration or a complete group dance of at least 2 minutes in duration, in response to an exam board set brief. Permit exam board to accept alternative evidence (2) to illustrate the intended final piece, the choreographic intent and how that was developed. Alternative evidence may include audio-visual recordings of complete performance/physical demonstration of key motifs with explanation of how they inform final piece/original and non-original photographs, images, drawings or sketches with annotations to illustrate intentions/written accounts/video diary. There is no requirement for the student to perform the choreographed dance or any physical demonstration of key motifs. Exam board to provide clarification about their requirements.

Both NEA components: Permit both NEA components to be marked by the teacher and moderated by the exam board or to be marked directly by the exam board.
Design and technologyPermit exam boards to accept mock-ups and/or clear and detailed intentions of prototypes. Exam boards to provide clarification about their requirements. Permit demonstration of using machinery/tools/processes.
DramaPermit live performance statement to be satisfied through streamed or recorded performances. Require exam boards to permit students to analyse and evaluate the work of others based on live theatre and/or streamed or recorded performances.

Devised Performance: Require each student to participate as either a performer or designer in a devised performance of at least 1.5 minutes (for monologue), and/or 2 minutes (for duologue or group). Permit exam boards to accept alternative evidence4 to illustrate the intended final piece, the student’s contribution to the creation and development of ideas, and their analysis and evaluation of their own work, as appropriate to the task. Alternative evidence may include audio-visual recordings of complete performance/physical demonstrations of key aspects with explanation of how they inform final piece/original and non-original photographs, images, drawings or sketches with annotations to illustrate intentions for performance or design/scripts/written accounts/video diary. Exam boards to provide clarification about their requirements.

Text Based Performance: Require each student to participate as either a performer or designer in a text based performance of at least 1.5 minutes (for monologue), and/or 2 minutes (for duologue or group). Require students to evidence their application of theatrical skills to realise artistic intentions, contribution to the creation and development of ideas, and analysis and evaluation of their own work, as appropriate to the task. Permit evidence to include either a complete and unedited audio-visual recording of the text based performance and/or presentation of each discrete aspect/each student’s individual contribution. For performance, permit audio-visual recording of acting performance alone without need for fully designed set/lighting/costumes. For designers, permit alternative evidence (2) that may include prototype of product/original photographs, drawings or annotated sketches of designs /annotated scripts/video or written account/physical demonstrations. Exam boards to provide clarification about their requirements.

Both NEA components: Permit participation in a monologue for both the Devised Performance and Text Based Performance. Permit both NEA components to be marked by the teacher and moderated by the exam board or to be marked directly by the exam board. Exam boards to provide clarification about their requirements. Where permitted changes to non-exam assessments affect usual coverage, permit exam boards to assess 1 complete and substantial performance text and 1 key extract from a second contrasting performance text – no change to coverage in written exams.
EconomicsNo change to assessment arrangements.
ElectronicsNo change to assessment arrangements.
EngineeringPermit exam board to accept clear and detailed intentions of prototypes. Exam board to provide clarification about their requirements. Permit students to watch a demonstration of using machinery/tools/processes.
English languageNo requirement for teachers to submit sample of audio-visual recordings of spoken language assessment for exam board monitoring. Spoken language assessment permitted to take place before a single teacher who can represent an ‘audience’. Spoken language assessment may be conducted by the teacher at any time during the course and by virtual means.
English literature
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Choice of topics on which students have to answer questions, giving centres choice over the content that must be taught. A minimum common core (3) (play by Shakespeare) that all students will be assessed on. Centre level content choices for students to answer questions on 2 of the 3 remaining content areas: poetry; 19th century novel; fiction/drama from British Isles from 1914.
Film studiesPermit exam boards to accept a prototype/mock-up, with supporting evidence as necessary, of an extract from a genre-based film or to produce an extract from a genre-based screenplay with shooting script, both in response to an exam board set brief, with evaluative analysis of own work. Supporting evidence may include original and non-original photographs, images, drawings or sketches with annotations to illustrate intentions/storyboards/screenplay/shooting script. Exam board to provide clarification about their requirements.
Food preparation and nutritionRemove NEA1 and permit an earlier release of NEA2. To reduce the requirements for NEA2 to 2 dishes to be completed within 3 hours (4) to allow for students to use complex processes such as baking, lamination, making ice-cream and to accommodate public health restrictions.
GeographyRemove requirements for (i) written statement that centres have given students the opportunity to undertake 2 days of fieldwork and (ii) students to answer questions in the exam relating to their own fieldwork experience.
GeologyRemove requirement for written statement that centres have given students the opportunity to undertake 2 days of geological fieldwork.
HistoryPermit choice of content topics beyond a core identified for each specification that all students will be assessed on, giving centres a choice over the content that must be taught.
LatinNo change to assessment arrangements.
MathsNo change to assessment arrangements.
Media studiesPermit exam boards to accept a prototype or mock-up, with supporting evidence as necessary, of an individual media production (single product) in response to an exam board set brief. Supporting evidence may include original and non-original photographs, images, drawings or sketches with annotations to illustrate intentions/storyboards/television screenplay/shooting script/radio script and directions. Exam boards to provide clarification about their requirements.
Modern foreign languagesRemove requirement for assessments to use words outside of vocabulary lists and permit glossing where necessary whilst maintaining level of knowledge and accuracy needed for the highest grades. Make the spoken language assessment an endorsement(5) reported on a 3-point scale (pass, merit and distinction) against common assessment criteria. To be assessed by teachers during the course of study. Permit exam boards to include an additional optional question in the writing assessment which would enable students to focus on fewer themes in their writing.
MusicPerformance Assessment: Require students to perform 1 or more pieces of music with a combined duration of at least 1.5 minutes (if all solo performance) or 2 minutes (if including performance as part of an ensemble). No requirement to perform as part of an ensemble. Requirement to submit complete and unedited recording of the live performance and, where available, the score or lead sheet for that performance.
Composition Assessment: Require students to compose 1 or more pieces of music with a combined duration of at least 2 minutes. Compositions may be in response to an exam board set brief and/or be freely composed, with no requirement to do both. Exam boards to provide clarification about their requirements for students who compose more than 1 piece. Requirement to submit complete recording of each composition with a score, lead sheet or written account of the composition, produced by the student. NB: The student does not have to perform their own composition(s). The recording(s) may be computer generated.
Both NEA components: Permit both NEA components to be marked by the teacher and moderated by the exam board or to be marked directly by the exam board. Exam boards to provide clarification about their requirements.
Physical educationPermit exam boards to reduce requirement to 2 activities and allow both to be individual. Permit remote moderation using videoed evidence for all activities. Permit exam boards to explore relaxation of the requirements for provision of evidence for example, type and quality of videoed evidence and the evidence of participation in competitive sport.
Physical education (short course)Permit exam boards to reduce requirement to 1 individual activity. Permit remote moderation using videoed evidence for all activities. Permit exam boards to explore relaxation of the requirements for provision of evidence for example, type and quality of videoed evidence and the evidence of participation in competitive sport.
PhysicsPermit observation of demonstrations and/or simulations to cover required apparatus and techniques.
PsychologyNo change to assessment arrangements.
Religious studiesNo change to assessment arrangements.
Religious studies (short course)No change to assessment arrangements.
SociologyNo change to assessment arrangements.
StatisticsNo change to assessment arrangements.

1 Wherever there is reference to ‘permit’, it does not mean that there is a requirement.
2 This replaces ‘portfolio of evidence’ to provide additional clarity about permitting exam boards to accept other evidence if students are unable to produce and submit a complete and unedited recording of their final performance.~
3 Exam boards may add to this core if they wish.
4 This is different to the 2 hour proposal on which we consulted.
5 Details of the arrangements for the endorsement are being worked on and will be published in due course but in time for teaching from September 2020. To be clear, the expectations are that the speaking skills should be assessed but in an integrated way that supports classroom practice, that is no formal assessment settings and arrangements other than where that is preferred and organised by the centre. The focus is on reducing the disruption within a centre and to the teaching time for MFL and other subjects that is caused by the formal speaking exam. There is no intention to replace one formal assessment with another that places burden on teachers and centres and takes students away from the classroom.

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