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What’s happening with GCSE, A-level and Btec exams in 2021?

Teacher-assessed grades to replace 2021 exams

GCSE and A-level exams have been cancelled - so what happens next?

The government has now detailed how exam grading will work in 2021, with teachers deciding the grades that students will get.

Here’s the key information you need to know about exam grading this year.

This piece covers the situation in England - specific info on other UK countries can be found at the end of the article.

How will GCSE and A-level grading work this year without exams?

GCSE, A-level and Btec students will receive grades awarded by their teachers in place of exams this year due to the disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic. 

Teachers will be asked to base your grades on work you've done (or will do) during the whole of your course. This could include coursework and mock exams, as well as essays and in-class tests. You'll only be assessed on topics you've been taught.

Your teachers might also choose to set you short assessments provided by the exam boards. These will not take place under formal exam conditions. 

Exam boards will provide teachers with guidance on how to most effectively assess your grades. However, there will be no return to the controversial algorithm that was used last summer to moderate teachers’ predicted grades.

Teachers have until 18 June to submit their assessed grades, so any work you do up until that time may be considered as part of your final grade.

Results will be published earlier than planned, so that students have more time to appeal any grades they are unhappy with. This is particularly intended to help students with university applications.

A-level results will now be published on Tuesday 10 August. GCSE results will be published on Thursday 12 August. Some vocational exam results (including some Btecs) will also be published during that second week of August, although a specific date has not yet been announced. 

What will teachers base my grades on?

Teachers can choose whatever form of assessment they think is best, but they have to evidence whatever decision they make regarding your grades. They can use evidence from across the time you’ve spent on your course. 

In its guidance, the government has recommended the following range of evidence that teachers can draw on:

  • assessments provided by the exam board, including exam questions, past papers, practice or sample papers
  • coursework, even if this has not been fully completed
  • substantial class or homework (including work you’ve done during remote learning)
  • any tests you’ve taken in class
  • ​​​​any mock exams you've taken
  • records of your capability and performance during the course in performance-based subjects like music, drama and PE
  • records of your progress and performance over the course of study

Will I have to sit exams?

Formal exams will not take place this year. However, the exam boards will be providing assessment papers that teachers may choose to use. 

This could be short papers or questions on specific topics rather than full exam papers. These will be provided to schools and colleges by the end of March.

These tests would not be taken under formal exam conditions and there are no rules on where these need to be completed. Any set questions will be marked by your teachers instead of external moderators.

Once results are published, you have the right to appeal any of your grades. Details of how the appeals process will work are available on the Department for Education website.

You also have the option to sit full exams in autumn if you’re unhappy with the grade your teacher gives you.

Why has this system been chosen?

Exam regulator Ofqual ran a public consultation to help it plan how to manage the cancellation of this year’s exams. It says there were more than 100,000 responses, with more than 50% of those from students.

Ofqual’s interim chief regulator Simon Lebus said: “In normal years, we rely on exams to support students’ progression.

“This year it is teachers’ judgement that will be used to assess what has been learned and determine student grades.

"Assessment cannot itself serve as an instrument to recover lost learning and compensate for the different experiences students will have had in different parts of the country, and the arrangements being put in place will therefore only take into account what students have been taught, not what they have missed.

"The aim is to make it no harder overall for this year’s students to receive a particular grade than students in other years.”

Education secretary Gavin Williamson said: “Young people have shown incredible resilience over the last year, continuing with their learning amidst unprecedented challenges while the country battles with this pandemic. Those efforts deserve to be fairly rewarded.

“That’s why we are providing the fairest possible system for those pupils, asking those who know them best – their teachers – to determine their grades, with our sole aim to make sure all young people can progress to the next stage of their education or career.”

Exam changes around the UK


Latest news on exam changes from SQA


Information on exam changes from the Welsh government

Northern Ireland

Latest news from the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment

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