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Awarding grades for GCSE, AS and A levels summer 2020: what do schools and colleges need to do?

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On Friday 3 April 2020, Ofqual published more detail about the information exam centres need to provide to exam boards for the awarding of GCSEs, AS and A levels,  Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) and Advanced Extension Award (AEA) in maths this summer. Further decisions have been confirmed as a result of consultations since then.

You can find the published documents here

The key questions and answers below have been developed using Ofqual’s guidance to help members access the information they need. They cover the following:



Who does this apply to?

This information is relevant to all exam centres in England using the following qualifications regulated by Ofqual and offered by AQA, OCR, Pearson, WJEC Eduqas, ASDAN and City & Guilds.

  • GCSEs
  • AS and A levels
  • Extended Project Qualifications (EPQ)
  • Advanced Extension Awards (AEA) in maths. 

This information also applies to exam centres in Wales and Northern Ireland who offer Ofqual-regulated qualifications offered by AQA, OCR, Pearson, WJEC Eduqas, ASDAN and City & Guilds. CCEA Regulation will issue guidance for centres in Northern Ireland taking CCEA qualifications.  

Does this process apply to vocational and technical qualifications too?

No, Ofqual has provided further guidance on vocational and technical qualifications which you can find here.

What information will schools and colleges have to provide?

For every GCSE, AS and A level subject, exam boards will require each exam centre to submit the following information:

  • A centre assessment grade for each student, in each subject, which reflects a fair, reasonable and carefully considered judgement of the most likely grade a student would have achieved if they had sat their exams this summer and completed any non-exam assessment. 
  • The rank order of students within each grade, for each subject – for example, for all those students with a grade of 5 in GCSE maths, or a grade B in A level biology, a rank order where 1 is the most secure/highest attaining student, and so on.

This will also apply to the advanced extension award (AEA) in maths and the extended project qualification (EPQ).

When will centres/schools need to submit their centre assessment grades and rank order?

Centres must submit their centre assessment grades and rank order between 1 and 12 June 2020.

Will the Department for Education (DfE) be using this data for accountability purposes?

No, the DfE has confirmed that it will not hold schools/colleges to account on the basis of the exams and assessment data, and it will not be publishing, or sharing, institution-level school/college accountability measures, such as Progress 8, using data from summer 2020. This data should not be used by others, such as Ofsted, local authorities, academy trusts, etc, to hold schools/colleges or teachers to account. 

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Students to be included:

Which students does this apply to?

This applies to all students in year 11 and above, including those in year 12 taking A levels and to students in year 10 and below who had been entered to complete exams in GCSEs, AS and A levels this Summer.

Should schools and colleges submit centre assessed grades for private candidates?

Ofqual has decided that calculated grades can only be provided for private candidates where a head of centre can provide a centre assessment grade and rank order position for that candidate.

Centres may have accepted entries from private candidates: students who they have not taught themselves because, for example, they have been home-schooled, following distance-learning programmes or studying independently. Schools and colleges need to make a decision regarding these candidates and only include them where staff have seen sufficient evidence of the student’s achievement to make an objective judgement.

The guidance allows for private candidates to transfer to another centre, ahead of the grading process this summer, if the school or college where they had registered decides it cannot submit a centre assessment grade for them.

What should centres do if they do not have sufficient evidence to submit a grade for a private candidate?

The head of centre should communicate their decision to any private candidates. Ofqual has suggested alternative options for these students such as transferring a student’s entry to another centre with which the student has previously studied. However, some of these candidates may need to sit exams in the autumn term.

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Centre assessment grades:

How do schools and colleges decide on the centre assessment grades for students?

Guidance from Ofqual says that this should be a holistic professional judgement, balancing the different sources of evidence. Heads of department and teachers should consider each student’s performance over the course of study and make a realistic judgement of the grade each student would have been most likely to get if they had taken their exam(s) in a subject and completed any non-exam assessment this summer. This could include a U (ungraded).

What should teachers use to decide on students centre assessment grades in their subject?

Teachers should draw on their existing records and all available evidence, which will include the following:

  • Records of each student’s performance over the course of study, including, for example, progress review data, classwork, bookwork, and/or participation in performances in subjects such as music, drama and PE
  • Performance on any non-exam assessment (NEA), even if this has not been fully completed. Many students achieve a higher grade on their NEA than in their exams, so you should not base your judgment on NEA alone, but balance it with your judgement about their likely performance in the written paper(s)
  • For re-sitting students, any information about previous grades achieved or NEA marks that would, under normal circumstances, have been carried forward
  • For A level students who took AS in 2019, their AS results in that subject
  • Performance on any class or homework assessments and mock exams taken over the course of study. 
  • Tier of entry in tiered subjects 
  • Previous results in your centre in this subject – these will vary according to a number of factors, including prior attainment of the students; however, Ofqual's data shows that for most centres, any year-on-year variation in results for a given subject is normally quite small 
  • The performance of this year’s students compared to those in previous years 
  • Any other relevant information. 

Is the centre assessment grade just the students predicted or target grade?

No, these centre assessment grades are not the same as the following:

  • Age-related grades (the grade a student would receive if they took the GCSE, AS or A level now)
  • Working at grades 
  • Target grades 
  • Predicted grades provided to UCAS in support of university applications. 

Should schools and colleges ask students to complete any unfinished NEA?

No, you should not ask students to complete their NEA work.

Do schools and colleges need to submit marks for any non-exam assessment?

No, you do not need to submit marks for any completed NEA.

Should we keep any NEA work completed to date?

Yes, particularly where students might want to enter in a subsequent series.

Should teachers set additional homework tasks or mock exams now so they have more available evidence?

There is no requirement to set additional mock exams or homework tasks for the purposes of determining a centre assessment grade. Judgements should be made on the evidence that is available. 

Should schools take into account any work completed by students after the school closures on 20 March 2020?

NAHT believes that any additional work which has been completed after schools and colleges were closed on 20 March 2020 should not be considered when making judgements; no student should be disadvantaged if they were unable to complete any work set after schools were closed. Ofqual urges centres to exercise caution where such work suggests a change in performance as in many cases it is likely to reflect the circumstances and context in which the work is done, 

Should teachers take account any reasonable adjustments or access arrangements for their students when deciding on a centre assessment grade?

Yes, where disabled students have an agreed reasonable adjustment (for example, a reader or scribe), or other students have an agreed access arrangement, the judgement should take account the student’s likely achievement with the reasonable adjustment/access arrangement in place. 

Will special considerations apply this year?

Special consideration requests will not apply this summer. Grade judgements should reflect how the students would have performed under ordinary circumstances. Where illness or other personal circumstances might have affected performance in mock exams, teachers should bear that in mind when making their judgements.

Do schools and colleges need to send evidence of students' work to the exam boards to justify the centre assessment grade?

No, there is no requirement to send any student's work or other evidence to the exam boards. Ofqual advises centres to retain records of the work and the grades and rank order submitted, in case of queries from exam boards about the data. 

Will the centre assessed grade be the final result awarded to the student?

Not necessarily. Exam boards will be standardising the grades awarded by centres using a statistical model. This means that the centre assessment grades you submit and the final grade that students receive could be different. 

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Specific subjects:

What centre assessment grades are available for GCSE combined science?

For GCSE combined science, the centre assessment grade should use the 17-point grade scale from 9-9 to 1-1.

What about GCSE English language spoken language and A level biology, chemistry and physics practical work?

Exam boards will also collect the grades for the separate endorsements in these subjects. If they have been completed, the grades should be submitted. If not, then centre assessment grades should be submitted. 

How will this work for tiered subjects?

Ofqual has confirmed that a single rank order for the tiered subject must be submitted. Schools and colleges should only provide grades that reflect the tier of entry of the individual student: 9 to 3 for higher tier; 5 to 1 for foundation tier. Centres should combine foundation and higher tier students at grades 3, 4 and 5 and put them in a single rank order. Within the rank order, they must ensure that the Centre Assessment Grade is appropriate for the tier for which the student is entered.

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Rank order of students within each grade, for each subject:

Why do centres need to provide a rank order of students?

The statistical standardisation process needs a more granular scale than grades alone. 

What is meant by rank order?

In each subject, for each grade, students need to be put into a rank order, where 1 is the most secure, 2 is the next and so on. For example, if you have 15 students for GCSE maths for whom you have given a centre assessment grade of 5, you then need to rank them from 1 to 15, where 1 is the most secure/highest attaining, 2 is the next most secure and so on. 

What if the cohort of students in a subject is taught by more than one teacher?

Where there is more than one subject teacher, those teachers will need to work together to agree on one rank order for all of the students within the centre who are taking that subject. 

What if two or more students are almost indistinguishable?

Ofqual recognises that if two or more students are almost indistinguishable in terms of their subject performance, it may be very difficult to put them into rank order. However, exam boards need a single rank order for all students, and teachers will need to consider all available evidence to make a decision.

Can we put more than one students at the same rank position?

No, tied ranks will not be allowed, so your submission will be rejected by the exam board and returned to the centre for amendment.

Should we be correcting for potential bias in the ranking?

Ofqual has provided further guidance to Heads of Centres, which includes some practical advice on how centres might ensure their judgements are objective. Individual rank orders provided by centres should not be modified to account for potential bias regarding different students according to their particular protected characteristics or their socio-economic backgrounds. Ofqual will consider potential issues of bias when finalising their statistical standardisation model.

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Sign off and submission:

How should each department sign off this data?

Centre assessment grades for each subject must be signed off by at least two teachers in that subject, one of whom should be the head of department. If there is only one teacher, or only one teacher available, then the head of centre should be the second.  

What is the process for sign-off by the head of centre?

The head of centre will be required to submit a declaration to confirm that the centre assessment grades and the rank order of students are a true representation of students' performance. The declaration will also include confirmation that the centre has undertaken an administrative check of the accuracy of the data it is submitting to the exam boards. If the head of centre is unavailable to complete the declaration, it can be delegated to a deputy or to the chair of governors. 

Ofqual has developed guidance to support heads of centre, with their roles over summer 2020, including some practical advice on how centres might ensure their judgements are objective.

When and how do schools and colleges need to submit this information?

Centres must submit their centre assessment grades and rank order between 1 and 12 June 2020.

Exam boards have provided more detailed instructions to centres about how and when to submit the data.

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Sharing this data with students, parents and carers:

Should centre assessed grades and rank-order data be shared with students, parents and carers?

Ofqual’s guidance states that centres must not, under any circumstances, share the centre assessment grades nor the rank orders with students, their parents/carers or any other individuals outside the centre, before final results have been issued. 

This will help to protect the integrity of teachers’ judgements and avoid centre staff being put under pressure by students or parents/carers to submit a grade that is not supported by the evidence.

“Inappropriate disclosure” of centre assessment grades and rank order information will be investigated by exam boards as potential malpractice.

Can students request this data under GDPR?

Ofqual guidance explains that in respect of personal data, such as marks or other information processed by a data controller for the purposes of determining results, an exemption from disclosure exists under paragraph 25(2) of the Data Protection Act. This allows data controllers (in this case centres) to delay disclosure of such information until after results have been issued.

What should I tell students, parents and carers?

When you communicate with parents, you should signpost Ofqual’s guidance for students, parents and carers to explain the process for awarding grades in summer 2020. 

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Statistical standardisation:

How will grades be standardised across centres?

Exam boards will use a statistical model to standardise grades across centres in each subject. Ofqual is working with technical experts within exam boards and others to develop this model, which will combine a range of evidence including the following:

  • Expected grade distributions at national level
  • Results in previous years at individual centre level
  • The prior attainment profile of students at centre level.  

The trajectory of centres’ results will not be included in the statistical standardisation process.

Following consultation, Ofqual has decided that the statistical standardisation model should place a greater emphasis on the historical evidence of centre performance (given the prior attainment of students) as compared to the submitted centre assessment grades, where that will increase the likelihood of students getting the grades that they would most likely have achieved, had they been able to complete their assessments in summer 2020.

In certain circumstances (such as for small centres and low entry subjects), Ofqual has noted that it may be appropriate to place more weight on centre assessment grades than previous centre performance.

How might this process affect the centre assessed grades submitted?

Ofqual guidance explains that this process will not change the rank order of students within your centre. However, if, when compared to the evidence, your judgements are more generous than would be expected, then the final grades for some or all of your students will be adjusted down. If your judgements are more severe, then the final grades for some or all of your students will be adjusted up. This will align the judgements across centres so that, as far as possible, your students are not unfairly advantaged or disadvantaged this summer. 

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Results, reviews, appeals and additional exams:

When will results be released?

It has been confirmed that results will be released as planned this summer, on 13 August 2020 for AS and A levels and 20 August 2020 for GCSEs. 

These will be released by awarding organisations in the same way as normal.

Will the normal processes for reviews of marking and appeals apply?

Under the circumstances, the normal arrangements for reviews of marking and appeals will not apply.

On what grounds can appeals be submitted in 2020?

Ofqual has confirmed that students will not be able to submit an appeal to challenge their centre assessment grade or their position in the centre’s rank order, nor will they be able to submit an appeal in respect of the process or procedure used by a centre.

However, a student will be able to ask their centre to check whether they made an error when submitting a centre assessment grade and including them in the centre’s rank order. They will be able to raise a complaint to their centre if they have evidence of bias or that they were discriminated against; they could also pass such evidence on to the exam board who could investigate for potential malpractice.

Centres will be able to appeal to an exam board on the grounds that the exam board used the wrong data when calculating grades, and/or incorrectly communicated the grades calculated. Further guidance on this is expected from Ofqual shortly.

Additional detail on appeals will be published by individual exam boards.

Ofqual has decided not to provide for appeals in respect of the operation or outcome of the statistical standardisation model. However, they are investigating whether it might be appropriate to allow for appeals where there is reliable evidence of a significant demographic difference between the centre’s cohort and the historical data used for statistical standardisation. Ofqual intends to announce a decision on this possibility before the end of June.

Who will be able to submit a request for an appeal?

Ofqual has confirmed that exam boards should only consider appeals submitted by centres, not by students directly.

As is already the case, exam boards will require centres to operate an internal process through which a student can challenge a centre’s decision not to appeal to the exam board on the student’s behalf.

Will there still be a charge for appeals submitted in 2020?

The normal provisions that allow the exam boards to charge for appeals if they wish remain in place.

What about the option for students to take an exam in the autumn?

Students who feel that their grades from the summer do not reflect their ability and those who were not able to be awarded a grade (eg private candidates) will be given the opportunity to take exams in an autumn series.

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Awarding grades for GCSE, AS and A levels summer 2020: what do schools and colleges need to do?