The exam regulator Ofqual has instructed schools and colleges in England to exercise greater leniency this year in relation to pupils who wish to progress to A-level studies.
The watchdog has recommended to English schools and colleges that they should show “greater flexibility” toward pupils who have not achieved the requisite grades at GCSE this summer for progression to A-level courses when the new term starts in September.
The move comes in the aftermath of this year’s extraordinary events, in which the government took the unprecedented step of requiring UK schools and colleges to close their doors at the start of March.
This was considered necessary to limit the spread of COVID-19.
Only vulnerable children or the sons and daughters of essential keyworkers were permitted to continue attending classroom-based, teacher-led learning.
Written exams for GCSEs and A-levels were also cancelled this year due to the government’s COVID-19 containment measures.
Pupils are to be awarded grades by examination boards based on “centre assessments” – a combination of teacher forecasts based on each pupil’s previous scholastic performance in different subjects and on prior scores in mock exams.
To take account of the impact of home-based, remote learning on pupil attainments this year, Ofqual now requires schools and colleges to place “slightly less weight” on pupils who attain “one or two lower grades”.
The government’s arrangements for a full-time return to education in September include compensatory provisions.
Pupils who fall short of the GCSE results they need for A-level progression will be able to sit written exams in the autumn.
However, this will be too late for the commencement of A-level courses, as teaching begins on them at the start of September.
The exam regulator has therefore written to schools and colleges inviting them to consider factors beyond particular grades this year and to take account of “other robust evidence”.
This would include exercising leniency in circumstances where “you already know a student and their potential well”.
Ofqual’s head regulator Sally Collier wrote in the letter: “You may wish to consider the approach you take for certain students, given they did not have the opportunity to sit exams and other assessments.”
The regulatory body has taken a stringent line concerning the premature disclosure of results to pupils by teachers.
Teaching staff who inform pupils or parents of their predicted grades or rankings before the official release of the results may face investigation for malpractice, Ofqual has warned.
The sharing of this information will, however, be entirely permissible as soon as the exam results are formally published, the watchdog has confirmed.
There may be more disappointment for pupils as the regulator has decided to adjust some teacher predictions downwards.
Ofqual considers them over-optimistic in the light of previous years’ exam results and will, therefore, subject them to a moderation process to bring them into line with the latter.
Many predicted grades will be lowered as a result, though Ofqual has also confirmed that due to the extraordinary conditions of 2020, results will be more generous this year.
There will be a 2% increase in pupils achieving A grades or above at A-level, while those awarded Grade 4 or above at GCSE level will increase by 1%.