15 Jul 2020

GCSE exams and functional skills assessments 


A current overview of assessment and awarding arrangements for GCSE maths and English and functional skills qualifications in 2020 and 2021. 

GCSEs 2020

Since the Secretary of State for Education announced that the 2020 exam series in England would be cancelled to help fight the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19), Ofqual have worked to develop a process which aims to fairly recognises students’ work and make sure they get their grades in time to progress.

Full details of how GCSEs (and AS and A levels) will be awarded this summer, further guidance for teachers, students, parents and carers and an open letter to students who were expecting to be taking their exams this summer can be found on the Ofqual website.  You can also find answers to key questions relating to the arrangements on the DfE website

Ofqual also held a consultation on these proposals. Briefly, for each learner, providers will need to submit to exam boards two pieces of information for each subject. They will need to state the grade they believe the learner were most likely to have achieved if teaching, learning and exams had happened as planned, and the order of students at their organisation, by performance, for each grade. This information will be used to standardise judgements, with a view to allowing fine tuning of the standard applied across providers. 

You may like to watch the information video for students produced by Ofqual.

Key dates

GCSE centre assessment grades and rank orders had to be submitted to Awarding Organisations between the 1st and the 12th of June 2020.

Functional skills 2020

Ofqual has published information on how vocational and technical qualifications, including functional skills, will be awarded, and has confirmed that these qualifications will also be awarded by calculated result. However, where the awarding organisation is  able to demonstrate that the provision of a calculated result is not possible, they will permit awarding organisations to offer adapted assessments.  

"Calculated results will draw on a range of evidence, depending on the structure of the qualification. They may be based in part on teacher, trainer or tutor judgements of the result each learner would most likely have achieved had they been able to complete their assessments in summer 2020. Any centre assessment grade will be based on a range of evidence held by the school, college or training provider. Depending on the structure of the qualification, centres may be asked to provide a centre assessment grade for the whole qualification, or for uncompleted modules or units. There might be some instances where they are asked to provide a rank order of learners (as with GCSEs, AS and A levels). Where appropriate, statistical techniques based on students’ results in previous years, on these and on their academic qualifications, will form part of the adopted approach."

Current position

On the 14th of May, Ofqual published a Guidance document entitled "Awarding qualifications in summer 2020 - information for schools, students and parents on how GCSE, AS, A level, vocational and technical qualifications will be graded and awarded in summer 2020." The guidance reiterates that the majority of learners should receive a calculated result, and that Colleges and training providers would have a three week window in which to provide calculated grades for vocational and technical qualifications, beginning from the 1st of June.

Consultation findings were published on the 22nd of May, and Ofqual confirmed that they will be adopting the policy approach they consulted on, with additional guidance and strengthened requirements set out in their extraordinary regulatory framework to take account of feedback received. They produced an interactive tool that aims to enable providers and learners to find out whether a qualification is in scope for a calculated grade or needs adapted assessment. For full details click here

Other key points

  • The regulation end date for legacy functional skills qualifications has been extended from 31 August 2020 to 31 December 2020, to allow learners to complete them if they have not already received their certificate. In practice, this means that assessments for legacy functional skills qualifications must be completed by the end of October, and certificate claims submitted by the end of December.
  • In light of the assessment guidance, and the fact that scheduled functional skills assessments are not taking place, the rule requiring level 2 apprentices to study towards, and attempt, the functional skills assessments at level 2 is suspended temporarily. The suspension has now been extended until the 31st of December 2020.  
  • The Institute for Apprenticeships & Technical Education is supporting a new temporary flexibility that will enable apprentices to take end point assessment ahead of receiving their calculated functional skills qualifications later on in the summer. More information here

Key dates for functional skills assessments in 2020

  • Learners who would have taken their functional skills assessments between the 20th of March and 31st July needed to be registered with your Awarding Organisation by the 31st of May.
  • Calculated results had to be complete and quality assured for submission between the 1st and the 19th of June.

For information on the guidance and support available from Awarding Organisations, click here 

For a practical take on calculated results, you may like to read this article by Jonathan Kay.

Proposed changes to the assessment of GCSEs in 2021

Ofqual are now consulting on proposed changes to the way some GCSEs, AS and A levels should be examined in summer 2021 and to the arrangements for non-exam assessments undertaken by students who will be taking exams next summer. 

The consultation includes proposals and questions on:

  • adaptations to exams and assessments that could free up teaching time
  • adaptations to exams and assessments to address obstacles that could be created by any public health safeguards
  • sampling of subject content
  • the use of more optional questions in exams
  • changing the length of exams
  • changing the exam timetable

You can view and respond to the the consultation here


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