Your GCSE 2021 Questions Answered

What’s on your mind about GCSEs in 2021?

It’s been a bit of an unsettling time. And it’s little wonder that many parents (and students) are unsure what’s happening.

So, we thought we’d answer the 5 most commonly asked questions about GCSE and A Levels in 2021.

Have all exams been cancelled?


There was a staggered start because not all of the UK follows the same guidance – so Scotland and Wales were quicker off the mark than England and Northern Ireland. There is an added complication in that iGCSEs are governed differently too. Not to mention BTEC and other vocational qualifications, certificates and diplomas. But now everyone is in the same position: there are no externally set and moderated exams.

How are grades being determined?

Teachers and exam centres (schools) are making an assessment of the level a student is working at and awarding the grade accordingly.

This year Ofqual are relying on holistic teacher judgement – that is to say it is down to teachers and teachers alone.

But it isn’t that easy, as we’ve heard from Colin Hughes, CEO of AQA and also Philip Wright, Director General of JCQ, the system has to be fair and reliable. It’s not that they doubt teacher judgement more that teachers only know about their own students and grades are relative.

So, there are a series of quality assurance steps to help teachers. The idea being that this will help with consistency. But everyone involved acknowledges this is an imperfect solution to a broadly impossible situation.

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Will there still be certificates?


The grades are still awarded from Exam Boards as if the exams had taken place. They will be a little earlier in the year than previous exam series to give time for appeals, resit decisions and so on.

Why are schools still setting tests and assessments?

They may be building up evidence or giving students more opportunities to prove themselves.

There’s no set pieces that need to be included, but the guidance is that it should be consistent across the year group. So teachers aren’t going to be cherry picking the best pieces of work. It has to be fair. Plus, teachers only know about their own classes. To get a representative view of how they are doing many teachers are now running tests that they can apply a mark scheme to. This helps them to determine the right grade. But there is no need to teachers to include them if, for any reason, they don’t believe they reflect students’ abilities.

What do we do if we disagree with the teachers assessed grade?

There is an appeals’ process.

But this is under further consultation at the moment. The key note on this at the moment is that appeals are to the exam centres first. If they agree they will contact the exam board who will consider it. If the centre doesn’t agree then you can still ask for the grade to be reviewed.

HOWEVER this is based on the holistic teacher judgement. So it is going to be incredibly difficult to argue that the teacher’s judgement is wrong. Government, Ofqual and JCQ are also very conscious of not making this an issue and have said they expect incredibly low numbers of changes to grades that teachers have reached. They are also watching the situation to make sure that teachers aren’t subjected to undue pressure from parents. This could actually be classed as malpractice and reported to the exam boards.

Take a listen to related podcasts

Simon Lebus
CEO | Ofqual
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Colin Hughes
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Burden Of Proof: Evidence in teacher assessed grades

Dr Philip Wright

Director General | JCQ

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