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Latest information and updates from Ofqual - secondary

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The Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual) regulates qualifications, examinations and assessments in England. It maintains standards and confidence in GCSEs, A levels, AS levels, and vocational and technical qualifications. It is independent of government and reports directly to parliament.

NAHT meets with Ofqual regularly, both on an individual basis and with other school leaders' and teaching associations.

Latest Ofqual information

Following the recent consultation on the Reform of the Exam Procedures Review Service (EPRS), Ofqual has published their analysis of the responses and their decisions.

They have decided to implement all of the proposals on which they consulted. The proposed changes were designed to:

  • speed up the EPRS process by removing the use of formal hearings to decide some EPRS cases
  • remove the requirement for some final decisions to be taken by a panel which includes external members
  • extend the remit of EPRS to include Technical Qualifications as they become available

Ofqual has also published the Exam Procedures Review Service: 2017 Report that reviews the work of Ofqual's EPRS function for the 2017 exams series in England.

Ofqual responds to DfE’s review of post-16 qualifications at level 3 and below in England

Ofqual has published its response to the Department for Education’s (DfE's) Review of Post-16 Qualifications at Level 3 and below in England. The review aims to streamline the number of qualifications available ensure that it only funds high-quality qualifications that serve a clear and distinct purpose. Ofqual welcomes the review and supports the view that success will be ensuring a clearer publicly funded qualification offer, providing qualifications that are high quality, necessary, and that support progression to successful outcomes. However, they caution against a tendency towards excessive “rationalisation”.

Ofqual writes to schools and colleges about the 2019 summer series

Chief regulator from Ofqual, Sally Collier, has written to all schools and colleges. The letter includes information to ensure the security of exam papers, as well as information and resources on how Ofqual maintains standards each year. There is also information about the use of the national reference test for awarding in 2019.

Chief regulator from Ofqual, Sally Collier, has also written a letter to Directors of Admissions of higher educational institutions, providing an overview of recent changes to some of the qualifications that are typically taken by students in England to support their entry to higher education. 

Ofqual publishes provisional entries for GCSE, AS and A level: summer 2019 exam series

Provisional statistics have been published on the number of provisional entries by age group and subject for GCSEs, Level 1/ Level 2, AS and A levels in England for the summer 2019 exam series. You can read a summary of the key findings here

Ofqual writes to schools ahead of the summer 2019 series

Chief regulator from Ofqual, Sally Collier, has written to all schools and colleges. The letter includes highlights a webinar Ofqual will hold for exams staff and a survey in which staff can share their views, experiences and suggestions of ways Ofqual can help. The letter also includes information about the summer 2019 exam series and links to useful resources such as an Exams Officer blog post and Ofqual’s interactive results data for GCSEs and A levels.

Ofqual confirm its decision on changes to their rules for reviews of marking, moderation and appeals

Following consultation last year, Ofqual has now confirmed that it will implement the proposals on which we consulted, subject to a change to the way they refer in the conditions to private candidates. The changes include:

  • shortening and simplifying their current rules in a number of places, without changing the obligations which are placed on exam boards;
  • change requirements for reviews of centre-marked assessments to make them clearer and more effective: 

where there is a review of marking of centre-marked assessments, the exam boards must require the reviewer to judge whether the marking of an individual student’s work is consistent with the rest of the marking of the centre;

the introduction of specific expectations if a centre does not accept the reviewer’s decision; 

the introduction of a specific requirement for an exam board to ensure that a centre informs it if the reviewer cannot judge whether the marking of an individual student’s work is consistent with the rest of the centre’s marking because the reviewer finds the centre’s marking to be inconsistent overall.;

  • make it clearer that private candidates can apply directly to exam boards for both reviews and appeals 
  • update our ‘key dates’ requirements to ensure that all schools, colleges and candidates have the appropriate amount of time, at different stages of the review and appeals processes, to consider whether to make use of the system.

Regulating GCSEs, AS and A levels: a guide for schools and colleges

Ofqual has updated its regulation guide for schools and colleges. This includes a new section on moderation. 

New resources

  • Qualifications reform: resources for teachers - Ofqual has updated its qualification reform slide pack for teachers to reflect the next phase of reforms. The slides are intended to provide teachers with a single source of information that can be used to communicate with students and parents on the changes that are happening to GCSEs, AS and A levels, and school and college performance measures.
  • GCSEs, AS and A levels: a guide for students in England - Ofqual has produced a new guide for students, to help answer key questions they may have while taking their GCSEs, AS and A levels.

Ofqual response to Guardian story about language learning in schools

Ofqual has released a statement in response to news coverage criticising grading in modern foreign language GCSE and A level subjects.

New resources for 2019 exam series

Ofqual’s '9 to 1 news' newsletter provides updates on the new 9 to 1 GCSEs, and the latest issue focused on resources to support a successful exam series, including:

You can read more in Ofqual's recent blog post here

Given that the reforms are now nearly complete, this was the final edition of its newsletter. Ofqual will continue sending out its Exam matters newsletter, which covers GCSEs, AS and A levels.

Ofqual confirms revisions to performance rules for music and dance GCSE, AS and A levels for 2019 onwards

Ofqual has confirmed that performance rules for GCSEs, AS and A levels in music and dance are being revised. This is intended to address issues identified with the way Ofqual’s rules for the performance assessment in these qualifications operated in practice after they were first delivered in summer 2018.

Following consultation, Ofqual has decided to:

  • revise requirements in GCSE, AS and A level dance and music to allow exam boards to determine how to mark a student’s performance when that performance falls short of the minimum required length;
  • add a footnote to the conditions for GCSE and GCE music, to broaden the range of acceptable reference material beyond a traditional written score or lead sheet, where such a score is not available;
  • revise requirements for how many dances students are required to perform in the GCSE dance performance assessment, in order to align with the Department for Education’s subject content.

These changes will come into effect immediately, meaning the new expectations will apply to this summer’s exams. You can access the full details here

Ofqual confirms its long-term plan for GCSE computer science assessments

Ofqual has confirmed its decision on the long-term assessment arrangements for GCSE computer science. These will replace the interim assessment arrangements implemented for the qualification in January 2018, in response to evidence of malpractice in the conduct of non-exam assessment (NEA). A summary of its decision and a link to its full consultation response is available here

Ofqual blog post: GCSE tiering decisions for summer 2019

Ofqual recently wrote to schools and colleges to clarify the arrangements for awarding higher tier GCSEs in combined science and modern foreign languages (MFL). It has now published a blog post providing some additional information and providing a reminder of which GCSE subjects are tiered, and what schools and colleges should bear in mind when thinking about summer 2019 entries. 

Ofqual clarifies grading of higher tier combined science and MFL GCSEs in 2019

Ofqual has written to schools and colleges to clarify the arrangements for awarding higher tier GCSEs in combined science and modern foreign languages (MFL). The letters confirm that their existing rules will apply in 2019.

The lowest grade for candidates entered at higher tier for combined science is 4-4; or 4, for MFL. A small number who just miss the lowest grade may be awarded 4-3 (combined science) or 3 (MFL); below this, their grade will be unclassified (U).

The decision to allow some candidates to be awarded the grade 3-3 on higher tier combined science in 2018 was exceptional and will not be permitted in summer 2019. Ofqual recommends that schools and colleges should consider carefully which tier to enter students for.

More detailed letters are available clarifying the arrangements for higher tier grading in science and MFL, to be shared with relevant heads of department.

Notes from Ofqual's Summer Report 2018 and December publications briefing are now available to view here. 

Ofqual confirms its decision not to adjust grading standards on the basis of inter-subject comparability

Ofqual has been reviewing the evidence to judge if there is a compelling case to make an adjustment to grade standards on the basis of inter-subject comparability. The A Level subjects under consideration for changes to grade standards in the future were physics, chemistry and biology, as well as French, German and Spanish, which experienced adjustments to standards setting in summer 2017.

  • Ofqual has decided in its policy decision document that there is not a compelling case to make changes to any of the subjects under consideration
  • However, it recognises the potential for perceived grading severity to undermine public confidence in these qualifications, and will, therefore, consider with exam boards how to best avoid the potential for these subjects to become statistically more difficult in the future
  • To this end, Ofqual will be introducing a 'one-sided reporting tolerance' from summer 2019. This will mean that exam boards may award slightly above prediction but would need to provide additional evidence if they wished to award below prediction. This should result in most remaining within tolerance and should address the perceived risk that grading standards may become marginally more severe
  • This decision applies only to A Level subjects. Ofqual has committed to undertaking a review of GCSE Modern Foreign Languages next year
  • Alongside its decision, Ofqual released extensive supporting analysis, which can be accessed here.

Ofqual handbook now available online

Ofqual has adopted an online format for publishing its rules and guidance, following a successful trial over the last year. The Ofqual handbook is available online here and combines the general conditions of recognition and associated guidance for regulated qualifications.

Ofqual has just launched a series of short videos entitled ‘Ofqual explains’ designed to aid understanding and awareness of their rules and guidance. The videos cover five different aspects of their work, including information about qualification-specific rules, and can be used to support understanding of the new regulatory framework. You can access the videos here.   

Supporting exams officers 

Ofqual has launched new support and resources to support exams officers. Resources include information on how Ofqual sees the role of exams officers, what support they can provide to exams officers to help reduce opportunities for things to go wrong, as well as information on what some centres are doing to keep mobile phones out of the exam hall to reduce malpractice instances. We would encourage heads of centre to utilise the resources, as they provide useful information to support understanding of the work of exams officers. You can access the resources here.

New resources intended to support exams staff in schools and colleges include:

Ofqual has also developed some short videos and animations to answer some of the most common queries their public enquiries team receive which could be helpful to signpost to students and parents. 

2018 GCSE Combined Science 3/3 safety net for higher tier

Ofqual is aware that decisions about tier entry can be difficult for some students, and that the structural changes to the sciences – including the removal of untiered controlled assessment, and moving to a double award GCSE – have made it more complex this year.

During the awarding period exam boards reported that there were more students than expected getting an unclassified result on higher tier combined science, who would have achieved a grade if they had taken the foundation tier papers. Receiving an unclassified result because they had been entered for higher tier would misrepresent their ability.

Therefore, Ofqual has decided to allow exam boards to use grade 3-3 on the higher tier for this summer, matching grade 3-3 on the foundation tier. Senior examiners in each of the exam boards have reviewed the work of students at this grade and confirmed that it is of an appropriate standard. Exam Boards will be providing further support to schools regarding tier entry choices in 2019.

You can read Ofqual's latest blog, which contains its announcement here.

Guide to GCSE results for England, 2018

Ofqual has released a guide to results, standards and grade boundaries for the 2018 GCSE results in England. This includes:

Useful information for schools and colleges on results days and beyond 

This guide explains how Ofqual regulates the exam boards that provide GCSEs, AS and A levels, what schools and colleges can expect from exam boards and what exam boards, in turn, expect from schools and colleges. 

General qualifications (GCSEs, A levels, AS levels)

Reviews of centre marked work:
  • There has always been a requirement that schools/colleges provide a review process for centre marking, but there was not a requirement that students knew their marks. Ofqual felt this was an anomaly, and so introduced a requirement that students knew their marks. However, unions have raised concerns about the timing, communication and impact on workload. There are particular problems in schools and colleges where there are only one or two teachers of a subject, both of whom are involved in the original marking of non-exam assessment. This necessitates trying to make some reciprocal arrangement with another school/college who also teaches the same subject and specification.
Access to scripts:
  • Awarding organisations are required to make these available for schools/colleges to access from 2020; however, it is not a requirement that schools/colleges must access a script before they submit a review of marking
  • Grading in GCSE English language, literature and maths will be made using predictions and last year’s grading
  • GCSE combined science will result in a double award with grades set at qualification level; this creates 17-grade options, which is considered to be fairer to students. Predictions will take account of students who would previously have taken science in year 10 and additional science in year 11. You can access further information here.

Vocational and technical qualifications

  • Following the release of research that identified evidence of grade inflation associated with internal assessment in some 'older style' applied general qualifications, Ofqual is calling on awarding organisations to address the risk of grade inflation in these legacy qualifications. More generally, and recognising the important role this group of qualifications plays in both widening participation in higher education and as a route into employment, Ofqual believes there is a need for awarding organisations to consider how best to strengthen their controls around internal assessment across a wide range of technical and vocational qualifications. They are therefore calling on awarding organisations to strengthen their controls on internal assessment in any qualification where there are potential risks to standards. They will also be considering whether additional bespoke guidance or additional regulatory requirements are needed to ensure qualification standards are maintained
  • Ahead of this summer's awards, Ofqual has written to encourage awarding organisations offering applied general and tech level qualifications to consider changes to their qualifications to provide a 'safety net' for those students who narrowly miss a pass on one or more externally-assessed units. See further information here
  • Functional skills reform is on track to deliver a new suite of qualifications for first teaching in September 2019; Ofqual is focusing on a safe transition to the new qualifications. All learners registered on or after 1 September 2019 must be awarded a reformed functional skills qualification, and all qualifications awarded on or after 1 September 2020 must be the reformed version
  • Centre controls were discussed because there is variation between awarding organisations in terms of the way centre controls are used and delegated to centres. These include centre approval, centre agreements, moderation, EQA visits and managing conflicts of interests.  Awarding organisations must ensure centre controls are robust and effective, and they must manage any risk effectively to ensure the qualifications they award are valid and reliable
  • Ofqual is reviewing applied general qualifications in terms of assessment quality and demand.

Extension of grounds for appeal

The latest information on this is available on Ofqual's website.

If a school or college remains concerned about an outcome following a review, it can appeal to the exam board. Appeals can be on the following grounds:

  • An exam board did not apply its procedures consistently, or procedures were not followed properly and fairly.
  • In AS and A levels (as well as project qualifications), but not GCSEs, there was an error in the original marking or moderation, or in the review of that marking or moderation - ie an administrative error (such as adding up marks incorrectly) had not been corrected, the mark scheme was not properly applied or the mark could not have been given by a trained marker who had the appropriate subject knowledge and exercised their academic judgement in a reasonable way. 

This second ground for appeal was new in 2017, and it will be rolled out to all GCSEs in 2019.

National reference test

Developed by NFER, the national reference test will provide information on changes in performance standards over time. Ofqual has created a useful overview of the test, which includes example questions as well as an infographic that briefly outlines how the NRT works. See more information here.

Exam matters

The latest release includes information on Ofqual’s summer 2018 report, the consultation on proposed changes to rules for reviews of marking, moderation and appeals and malpractice statistics from summer 2018. Read the full newsletter.

Ofqual's blogs

Ofqual produces regular blogs that provide more detailed information on some of the current key topics. New releases include Exams are starting and Using NRT evidence this summer

Consultations

Moderation and verification of centre assessment judgements

Ofqual has launched a consultation on proposed changes to the way awarding organisations manage and oversee centre assessments. Proposals include:

  • clarifying the existing definition of moderation and providing a new, separate definition for verification;
  • requiring awarding organisations to produce centre assurance strategies that explain how their centre assessment arrangements work;
  • setting minimum requirements in certain qualifications;
  • setting minimum requirements for awarding organisation verification processes, including a minimum of two monitoring visits and an additional unannounced visit per centre every year.

The proposals are intended to strike a balance between ensuring an appropriate level of awarding organisation control over centre assessment judgements, and ensuring qualifications can be delivered to meet the needs of users.

We would encourage school leaders and their staff to review the consultation. We draw your attention in particular to question 27, which asks about the possible impacts that centres might expect as a result of increased visits (including the proposed requirement for unannounced visits) by awarding organisations.

Ofqual is keen to hear from keen from users of qualifications, including schools and colleges. The consultation can be accessed here and closes on 20 May 2019.

Ofqual: call for evidence on teachers' involvement in developing exam papers 

Ofqual has confirmed changes to its rules with respect to the safeguards that awarding organisations have in place. They must now support the continued involvement of teachers in the development of confidential assessment materials. Ofqual has also provided additional guidance to help awarding organisations comply with these rules, following a public consultation on the guidance that took place back in the spring term. You can access the full information here.

Latest research and data from Ofqual

The summer report provides a general overview of the summer GCSE, AS and A level exams in England. There is also an infographic to give an overview of the data from this summer’s exams. As part of the summer reporting there is a report on reviews of marking and moderation resulting in grade changes of two grades or more; results are also provided for the national reference test 2018 along with background information.

Find summaries of the latest research and data from Ofqua here

View the latest primary information and updates from Ofqual here.
Last updated 11 July 2019