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Teacher assessment for GCSEs, AS and A-Levels 2021: is it going to work?

Teacher assessment for GCSEs, AS and A-Levels 2021: is it going to work?

Teacher assessment for GCSEs, AS and A-Levels 2021: is it going to work?

This summer public examinations have, once again, been cancelled for pupils studying GCSEs, AS and A-levels.  Last year, the system for grading students was based primarily on grade prediction by teachers.  This year, grades are to be based on teacher assessment rather than grade prediction.  Is this going to work?

Potential for teacher assessment bias

Last year, the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual) carried out a review of some research studies looking into potential bias in teacher assessment, which involved teachers predicting grades, as opposed to exam-based assessment and found that the difference between teacher assessment and exam assessment results can sometimes be linked to student characteristics like gender, special educational needs, ethnicity and age but the effects, when present, are small and inconsistent across subjects.[1]

Ofqual has recently published another review looking at the differences between teacher assessment, which will involve teacher assessment rather than prediction, and test-based assessment and the potential bias of the former.[2] The report details findings as follows in teacher assessment as opposed to test-based assessment:

  • a slight bias in favour of girls over boys
  • bias against children from a disadvantaged background
  • bias against children with special educational needs.

How grades will be formulated and submitted this year

This summer, grades will be submitted to exam boards by exam centres; essentially student’s teachers.  It is imperative that the grades submitted must reflect a fair and objective reflection of the student’s ability.  Conscious of this and the potential for teacher assessment bias, Ofqual has published guidance on how to generate grades for GCSE, AS and A Level Students this summer.[3]  They recommend, for example, using evidence of students’ results in completing past papers, coursework, internal tests and mock exams to formulate their judgements.

Each grade must be signed off by two teachers and the head of the exam centre.  Exam Boards will perform random checks on this evidence as well as comparing an exam centre’s 2021 grade submission against previous years.  Whilst this comparison may help avoid any exam centres seeking to improve their own outcomes by submitting grades which have exceeded those of previous years, will that not suppress the potential of a particularly gifted cohort?

It is clear that, given the evidence on which students’ grades will be formulated, they will only be assessed on what they have been taught.  On first glance, that seems only right; how can they be assessed on subjects they haven’t been taught?  Upon further consideration though, how do students measure up against their peers in other schools and colleges?  How can all students be on an equal footing when they progress to the next stage of their educational career when certain modules may have been dropped from courses?  The gain of a good grade with a reduced curriculum may be short lived.

What happens for students not attending school or college

For students who do not attend school or college, for example, those who are home-educated, the student will need to work with a school, college or exam centre to provide the type of evidence referred to above.  Given that teachers are able to take into account all study from a student’s course, it is difficult to perceive how a private candidate could be assessed in the same way as a student attending school or college full-time.

For a student who has not attended school or college for other reasons, if there is not sufficient evidence on which to base a teacher assessment, it will not be possible to submit a grade for them.

Reasonable adjustments must be made for students with disabilities.

Appeals against grading

Students will not learn of their grades until results days which are 10 August 2021 and 12 August 2021 for A/AS Levels and GCSEs respectively.  The Department for Education has brought forward these dates from previous years to afford students more time in which to appeal their results if necessary.  Perhaps they foresee that there is a likelihood of higher numbers of students appealing and, in light of the recent report from Ofqual, that foresight appears sensible.  Appeals must be submitted by 17 September 2021.

Students are encouraged[4] to speak to their school or college in the first instance if they feel their grade is wrong.  The school or college will then check if a mistake has been made in either formulating or submitting the grade.  If a mistake has been made, the school or college can submit a revised grade to the exam board to consider.

If no mistake is identified, a student can ask their school or college to submit a formal appeal to the exam board.  A student can appeal on the basis that:

  • the school or college did not correctly follow their procedure for determining the teacher assessed grade
  • the school or college did not make a reasonable judgement when deciding which evidence should be used to determine the grade
  • the school or college did not make a reasonable judgement about the grade based on the evidence of the student’s performance.

The exam board would then review the evidence and consider whether the grade should be revised.

This raises various questions.  What is reasonable judgement?  How can it be a fair system that it is the same school or college which has determined the grade which then also has to submit the student’s formal appeal?


The Covid-19 pandemic has brought about huge difficulties in the education sector for pupils and teachers alike.   Clearly significant attempts have been made to overcome these challenges and produce an assessment process which is fair and objective but will it be enough?  Let’s wait and see.

[1] Ofqual. (2020) Equality impact assessment: literature review Equality impact assessment: literature review (publishing.service.gov.uk)

[2] Ofqual. (2021) Systematic divergence between teacher and test-based assessment Systematic divergence between teacher and test-based assessment: literature review (publishing.service.gov.uk)

[3] Ofqual (2021) Information for heads of centre, heads of department and teachers on the submission of teacher assessed grades: summer 2021

[4] Ofqual (2021) Student guide to awarding summer 2021

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