Getting the grades they’ve earned: Covid-19: the cancellation of exams and ‘calculated’ grades Contents

4Looking ahead

The autumn exam series

47.Some pupils will wish to sit exams in the autumn. Ofqual has concluded its consultation on proposed arrangements for an autumn exam series, with the outcome that exam boards will be required to offer a full series of exams in the autumn.72 We believe this is the right decision, as it will allow those who want to improve their grade to do so at the earliest opportunity. However, there are significant concerns about ensuring fairness for disadvantaged pupils given the extent of learning loss.

48.Much remains to be done if autumn exams are to be a level playing field for all pupils. Written submissions highlighted disparities in learning during school closures, with many disadvantaged children lacking an internet connection, a laptop, and a suitable home learning environment.73 We asked Ofqual what could be done to mitigate this variability in learning. While Sally Collier told us that this is “obviously a big issue for any exam series that is going to take place in the autumn”,74 we did not receive answers on how this would be tackled. Schools and colleges too will have their own concerns about the logistics of this exam series, particularly if social-distancing requirements are still in place. The Department is currently “exploring ways to minimise additional burdens on centres”,75 and we expect the Department to provide concrete solutions, rather than vague guidance, on how this can be managed.

49.Fairness and accessibility must be the guiding principles of an autumn exam series. Having directed Ofqual to provide pupils with “an opportunity to sit an exam at the earliest reasonable opportunity”,76 the Department must not now wash its hands of further responsibility.

50.The Department must provide guidance for schools and colleges, outlining minimum requirements for provision of teaching support for pupils opting for an autumn exam. The Department must support schools and colleges to manage the logistics of this series, providing concrete solutions on how the burden of an additional series can be minimised.

51.Private candidates are a group for whom autumn exams could be particularly important. Private candidates include those who are home-schooled, are following distance-learning programmes, or who are studying independently for qualifications. Ofqual’s policy on private candidates allows for Heads of Centre to provide centre-assessed grades for private candidates, providing there is sufficient evidence of that pupil’s work.77 However, not all private candidates have been able to find a centre to accept them. Written evidence we received on this issue—much of it from pupils and their families—highlighted the anxiety and frustration felt by this group, with submissions telling us they felt they had been overlooked by Ofqual.78 We raised the difficulties that private candidates have had with Ofqual. Sally Collier told us that Ofqual has “worked very quickly with exam boards to get some additional centres, just specifically dealing with private candidates”, and that “figures have just started to come through”.79 An autumn exam series will enable those private candidates who have not received a grade to progress to the next stage of their lives without further delay.

52.As at 30 June 2020, Ofqual has merely stated it will “confirm the exact timing of the exams in due course”.80 We believe that given the potential disruption for schools and colleges, and the need for pupils and teachers to know, now, when their exams will take place, this is not good enough.

53.Ofqual must urgently publish dates for the autumn exam series and end uncertainty for pupils, teachers, schools and colleges.

2021 exams

54.We were concerned to hear reports that disruption could extend to exams next year.81 Sally Collier told us that the Government is currently considering “the impact of lost teaching and learning” on 2021 exams, while Ofqual is “looking at what that means for the exam system” and will launch a full consultation.82 We agree with Lee Elliot Major that “Clarity over exams for next year is key.”83 We are aware that there is widespread public concern about the implications of learning loss for exams next year, with a petition to reduce examinable content reaching over 140,000 signatures.84 The Secretary of State has asked Ofqual to investigate potential adaptations to assessments, such as “content sampling and increasing optionality”, and to explore the possibility of “moving some or all exams to later in the summer term”.85 However, guidance published by the Department outlines expectations that pupils in examination years should continue with examined subjects as planned, and subjects should only be dropped in “exceptional circumstances”.86

55.We believe that modifications to assessments will lead to erosion of standards, and that the 2021 cohort of exam-takers could be disadvantaged by a perception that their exams were not as rigorous as those taken by other cohorts.

56.We support a short delay for exams in summer 2021 as preferable to modifications to exam content. Any delay must be a matter of weeks, not months. Ofqual must publish details of the 2021 exam series as soon as possible, and before the end of the summer term.

A question of fairness: post-16 catch-up funding

57.The Government’s recently announced billion pound tuition scheme is a vital initiative to ensure no disadvantaged pupil is left behind.87 While there will be much catch-up work to be done, this additional funding will help level the playing field so that every pupil can climb the ladder of opportunity. Notably, however, the scheme does not include post-16 students, a group who will be sitting important final exams next summer. This is a significant omission. Evidence submitted by the Education Policy Institute’s highlighted that 16–19 education funding been cut sharply over the last decade, and called for the disadvantage weighting88 in the 16–19 funding formula “to be doubled for pupils in Year 12, for a minimum of a year”.89 At our evidence session on 24 June 2020, we heard from Association of Colleges Chief Executive David Hughes that the decision not to include post-16 students in the support package is “indefensible”.90 He further told us that the sector will need a “£200 million [ … ] pupil premium-type upgrade to funding for those students who need it most”, including catch-up support for disadvantaged students.91 We are further concerned about support for pupils who attend Alternative Provision or Pupil Referral Units in year 12 and 13. While this amounts to a very small number of pupils, they must not be forgotten.

58.The pandemic’s impact on learning loss does not stop when pupils turn 16. Post-16 learners, whether they are resitting key English and Maths GCSEs, or preparing to sit final exams before entering higher education or the workplace, deserve proper catch-up support.

59.The Government must extend catch-up funding to include disadvantaged post-16 pupils to ensure this is not a lost generation. This should be done by doubling the disadvantage element in the 16–19 funding formula for pupils in Year 12, for at least the next year.

60.Any post-16 pupils attending Alternative Provision and Pupil Referral Units, and those training for basic skills, must also be eligible for catch-up funding.

72 Ofqual, Consultation decisions: An additional GCSE, AS and A level exam series in autumn 2020, 30 June 2020. See also, HC Deb, 2 July 2020, col 538 [Commons oral ministerial statement]

73 See, for example: The Children’s Commissioner (CIE0150); Professor Mountford-Zimdars et al. (CIE0172); The Sutton Trust (CIE0194), Hackney Council (CIE0235)

77 Ofqual, Private candidate policy update, 30 April, 2020

78 See, for example: Mrs Katherine Norman (CIE0019); Mrs Rebecca Graham (CIE0240)

85 Letter from the Secretary of State to Ofqual. Arrangements for examinations and assessments in 2020/21. 18 June 2020

86 DfE. Guidance: Guidance for full opening: schools, 2 July 2020

88 The disadvantage element in the 16–19 funding formula is comprised of two blocks: one using a postcode index to account for students’ economic deprivation, and one to account for low prior attainment in English and maths. See also ESFA Guidance: Funding rates and formula, May 2020

89 Education Policy Institute (CIE0038)

Published: 11 July 2020