When are GCSE and A-level results out and how fair will grades be?

Students getting exam results

Students will get GCSE and A-level results earlier this summer. - Credit: PA

For pupils receiving exam results it is the biggest day in their school lives, with further education and university places on the line. 

Normal exams have been cancelled for the second year running due to the disruption students have experienced since the start of the pandemic.

Instead schools have been put in charge of grades and assessments in a bid to avoid the results day chaos caused by last year's controversial algorithm.

Pupils sitting exams

Exams have been cancelled for the second year running due to the pandemic. - Credit: Getty Images

But how will it work in practice?

When are this year’s results being announced?

Results are being published earlier and closer together than normal - August 10 for A-level students and August 12 for GCSE results - to give pupils more time to appeal.

How have grades been decided?

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With exams having not been sat by students, GCSEs, AS and A-levels have been assessed by teachers.

They have not been graded by an algorithm, avoiding the controversy and chaos that followed last year’s A-level results. 

Teachers’ judgements have only been based on what students have been taught, either in the classroom or via remote learning.

Teachers’ assessing work

GCSE, A and AS level students will get grades based on their teachers’ assessments of them. - Credit: PA

What have teachers used to decide grades?

A range of evidence including mock exams, homework, and work completed as part of pupils’ courses, such as essays or in-class tests, as well as coursework, even if it is not fully completed.

Most schools have said they planned to give greater weighting to “exam-style papers” compared to other forms of assessments.

Art and design grades will only be based solely on pupils’ portfolios, whether or not they have finished it.

How accurate will grades actually be?

Teachers will already have told students which pieces of work they have based their assessment judgments on before the recommended grades were submitted in June. This means there should be fewer surprises come results days in August.

Jon Ford, principal of Open Academy Norwich.

Jon Ford, principal of Open Academy Norwich. - Credit: DNEAT

Jon Ford, principal of Open Academy Norwich, said: “Teachers know their students' abilities and will use a range of assessments, some from the exam boards, others from their work schemes, appropriate to the experiences that their students have been through during the pandemic, to deliver the most accurate grades they can.”

Schools or colleges are carrying out multiple checks on grades. Exam boards will also be checking a sample of grades across the system.

What if pupils are unhappy with their grades?

Students will be able to appeal if they believe an error has been made, or they do not believe their grade is a fair reflection of their work.

Appeals will be submitted to the exam boards by schools and colleges on behalf of students.

The deadline is September 17, or August 23 for students who want their appeal to be considered as a priority because they’ve not had their first choice of university place confirmed.

Student doing coursework

Teachers have shared with students which pieces of work they have based their assessment judgements on. - Credit: PA

How likely is it that an appeal will be successful?

Grades will only be changed if there was an error when determining or submitting it, or if the grade given could not have reasonably been reached based on the evidence.

When the appeal is submitted, students will need to explain why they think their result was incorrect.

Grades can go up, down or stay the same.

The government has said that appeals will be free.

Will the grades take into account children having spent differing amounts of time out of school over the last year?

There are no requirements about the minimum amount having been taught or assessed for teacher-assessed grades, but students will need to have covered enough for the grade to be meaningful. 

Cath Jadhav, director of standards and comparability at exams regulator Ofqual.

Cath Jadhav, director of standards and comparability at exams regulator Ofqual. - Credit: Crown Copyright

Cath Jadhav, director of standards and comparability at exams regulator Ofqual, said: “Where a school or college believes that a student has suffered misfortune that might have affected their performance in an assessment, they have discretion to take account of that in coming to their judgement.”

Will students be able to take resits?

Exam boards will be offering exams in October for AS and A levels, and in November and December for GCSEs. Exams will be available for all subjects, and for AS in biology, chemistry, physics, maths and further maths.

The exams will be in a standard format and no adaptations will be made other than
reasonable adjustments for eligible students.

What about vocational qualifications?

Teachers' grades will be used to replace written vocational exams, in the same way as GCSEs and A-levels.

But where there are practical, hands-on skills to be tested, such as for a professional qualification, some of these exams will continue in a Covid-safe way.

The results for some vocational qualifications will be released in the week of August 9.

These qualifications include many Btecs and Cambridge Nationals.

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