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2021 exams cancelled – how will this affect your children?

2021 exams cancelled – how will this affect your children?

2021 exams cancelled – how will this affect your children?

With the government announcing in early January that A-level and GCSE exams won’t be going ahead in 2021, students and their parents will inevitably be looking at all of the problems that occurred last year and wondering what impact this is going to have on their education and their future.

The system used in 2020 infamously relied on an algorithm to give students exam grades based on factors including their predicted grades from their teachers, their ranking relative to other students in their school and the historical performance of their school in exams.

As we all know, this approach proved highly controversial, with 39% of students having their grades moved down by one or two grades from the estimates given by their teachers. The algorithm approach was also accused of disadvantaging bright pupils from lower performing schools and pupils at rapidly improving schools by tying their results to those of previous years where grades were lower.

While the government ultimately bowed to criticism and allowed teachers’ predicted grades to be used for 2020 GCSE and A-level results, this still left many students with problems. Examples include students who did not make it into their first choice of university due to their exam results being downgraded finding that, once they were allowed to use their predicted grades and therefore met their first choice criteria, their place had been given to someone else.

So, what does all of this means for students and their parents facing the prospect of cancelled GCSE and A-level exams in 2021? Will results be decided in a fairer way? How will this impact university and college admissions? And what will you be able to do if you are unhappy with the results awarded? Read on to find out.

How will GCSE and A-level exam results be calculated for 2021?

The government has proposed that: “in summer 2021 a student’s grade in each subject will be based on their teachers’ assessment of the standard at which the student is performing”.

The government proposal also said: “To help teachers make objective decisions we propose that exam boards should provide guidance and training, and make available a set of papers, which teachers use with their students as part of their assessment.”

The proposed plans set out a suggested timeline for when results would be decided and when students would receive them as follows:

  • Teachers will assess students beginning in May and ending in early June
  • Teachers will submit grades to exam boards by mid-June
  • Exam boards will perform “quality assurance” checks on the submitted grades throughout June
  • Students will be issued with their grades “most likely in early July”

On the issue of students being home educated, the government proposal said: “students who are not studying within a school or college, for example because they are home educated, must be able to be issued with a grade too. We are seeking views on the options that would enable them to do so.”

The government carried out a public consultation on this proposal which ended on 29 January, so a formal announcement of exactly what the process will be for deciding 2021 GCSE and A-level results will hopefully be forthcoming soon.

How will this affect university and college admissions?

In theory, students will be able to apply to colleges and universities as normal, using their predicted grades. The grades awarded by their teachers will then be used to determine whether they get to take up any places they are offered, in the same way exam grades would normally be used.

A potential problem could arise, however, if students are predicted and/or receive lower grades that they might have achieved normally due to the impact of the pandemic. Many students are likely to perform less well due to the disruption to their education and the mental impact of the pandemic – this could leave them disadvantaged in terms of what offers they receive and whether they ultimately get the required grades for those offers.

It is also possible that some courses will be more competitive as there may be students who chose to defer further studies in 2020, resulting in more people applying for places on courses starting in autumn 2021. UCAS reported a significant jump in applications for the most competitive courses in 2021, possible driven by students who have their grades from 2020 and are, therefore, more confident of matching the required standard.

This may significantly disadvantage students completing their GCSEs and A-levels in 2021 who will generally have suffered more overall disruption to their education than those who completed their studies last year.

Will students be able to challenge 2021 GCSE and A-level results?

In the government’s proposal, they stated that: “all students who do not believe their grade reflects the evidence of the standard at which they were performing can appeal”.

Exactly how this appeals process will work is currently unclear. In a formal response to the government proposal, Simon Lebus, Chief Regulator for the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual), which regulates exams, assessments and qualifications in England raised the following key points:

“Appeals against results are normally determined by a review of the marking of an exam paper by an exam board, therefore we will need to develop different arrangements for this year to enable students to challenge results if they wish to do so. In addition, no assessment

arrangements can take account of all the different ways that students have suffered from the pandemic.”

What this seems to mean is that, currently, there is no clear process in place for how the fairness or otherwise of a grade would be decided, although presumably it would involve some sort of independent review of the criteria used to award the grade in the first place.

It is also interesting that Simon Lebus raises the point that assessment arrangements could not account for the impact of the pandemic on students. Given that so many students’ education, mental health and general wellbeing have been significantly affected by the pandemic, it is inevitable that this will result in many students performing less well that they would have otherwise.

The government’s proposal had this to say on the subject:

“We do not believe that teachers should be asked to decide the grade a student might have achieved had the pandemic not occurred.”

This could be interpreted as the government accepting that students may perform less well than normal as a result of the pandemic, but that this will not be accounted for in the way grades are determined. However, there are options that students and parents can potentially explore if they believe the impact of the pandemic has affected their academic performance.

Can students get exam special consideration for the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic?

Under normal circumstances, ‘special consideration’ can allow students’ exam grades to be altered to take account of issues that may have affected their performance. This is something students and their parents should consider as soon as possible if they believe mental health issues may have impacted their studies and their likely GCSE or A-level grades.

According to the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ), which represents the eight largest UK qualifications providers:

“Special Consideration is a post examination adjustment to a candidate’s mark or grade to reflect temporary injury, illness or other indisposition at the time of the examination/assessment.”

Exactly how this may apply to mental health issues connected with the pandemic is unclear, especially given that students won’t actually be sitting exams. But it does raise the question of whether it may be possible to have student’s grades altered if it can be shown they were suffering from a mental health condition and that this affected their performance in areas used to determine their grade.

If a student or their parent thinks they are suffering from a mental health condition and this may impact their grades, it is sensible to consult your GP and your school as soon as possible. This can help to provide evidence of the issue, which could be crucial if you later need to appeal for special consideration.

Consult our expert education law solicitors about getting the right education support for your children

At IBB Law, we are passionate about making sure children have access to all of the support they need for their education and future success. We know how important it is for children to get the right educational support at this critical stage in their lives.

Our education law solicitors have extensive experience in the various types of assistance children need for their education and development.

We offer an initial consultation for a fixed fee of £250 + VAT to discuss your child’s situation and provide clear, practical advice on the steps we can take to get them the support they need. This can take place over the phone or via video conferencing to suit you.

To book your initial consultation or to find out more about how we can help with protecting your children’s education and their future, please contact our education law senior administrator, Rachael, on 01895 207230 or  educationteam@ibblaw.co.uk