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GCSE, AS and A level results 2020: Everything you need to know

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Exam results day is always a nerve-racking event. But this year, GCSE, AS and A level students face the unusual situation of getting results for exams they never sat.

There have been concerns about how the grades have been awarded and whether students will be disadvantaged.

With results due next month, here’s our guide to everything you need to know about the grading and what your teen can do if they’re unhappy with the outcome.

When will the GCSE and A level results be announced?

AS and A level results will be published on Thursday 13 August 2020, while results day for GCSEs is a week later, on Thursday 20 August.

How have the grades been awarded?

It’s complicated! Initially, teachers in England submitted predicted grades to the exam boards, along with a rank order by ability of all students within each subject.

These grades were based on previous exam results (including mocks), coursework, homework and general progress during the course.

These predicted grades were then moderated by exam boards, to ensure that national results are broadly in line with previous years and there is consistency across different schools. 

As the exam board regulator Ofqual explained earlier this week, the boards looked at other factors such as pupils’ previous exam results, as well as the schools’ performance in previous years.

This means that a student’s final grade may be different to the one put forward by their school or college, or the predicted grade used for a university application.

Similar systems were used in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Are the final grades fair?

There were concerns that the use of historic school data might be unfair to pupils in newer schools, smaller schools or those which are improving. But in such cases the teacher-assessed grades will carry more weight.

In addition to that, the Commons Education Committee and The Sutton Trust, a social mobility charity, both expressed concerns about the teachers’ predictions  displaying unconscious bias, which is making judgements based on a person's background or race, without being aware of such bias. They felt that disadvantaged and ethnic minority pupils might miss out.

However, Ofqual is confident that the results are fair and that the fears of unconscious bias are unfounded. They say there is no evidence of any widening gaps in this summer's results, in terms of ethnicity, gender or deprivation, compared with years when pupils have taken exams.

Paul Whiteman of the National Association of Head Teachers has backed the replacement grades, saying “while not a perfect solution, this is the fairest and most pragmatic alternative to sitting exams”.

It was reported that the original teacher-assessed grades would, on average, have been far higher than last year’s: GCSE grades were expected to be 9 per cent higher overall and A levels 12 per cent higher. This isn’t surprising since teachers tend to be optimistic about their students when it comes to predicting grades. As Ofqual puts it, teachers “naturally want to do their best for their students.”

After the various checks and balances have been applied, results are still more generous than last year. Ofqual has announced that the numbers achieving a grade 4 or higher GCSE are expected to be 1 per cent higher than last year, while the number of A grades awarded in A levels are likely to be up by 2 per cent.   

What can parents and students do if they are unhappy with the results?

Anyone who believes the process was not followed correctly can appeal through the school or directly to the exam board. But you cannot appeal the teacher predictions or rank order – if the school has provided this information.

The school can also appeal if they believe something has gone wrong with the system. The cost of this will be decided by individual exam boards and hasn’t yet been announced.

If your teen does not feel their grade reflects their ability, they will have the opportunity to take an exam in the autumn.

For help with the appeals process or suggestions about next steps, you can consult the National Careers Service.

There is also an Exams Results Helpline on 0800 100 900 or you can call Ofqual on 0300 303 3344 

Will there be a chance to sit the exams?

Ofqual has now confirmed that exams for all subjects can be taken in the autumn – even though there are worries about how schools will practically and safely manage this.

Students who want to improve their grades can take one or all of their exams. But all papers in a subject must be taken. And exams will follow the usual format.

It’s best for students to discuss this with the relevant teachers before deciding on their next step.

  • A level exams will take place in October, with an entry deadline of 4 September.

  • GCSE exams will take place in November, with an entry deadline of 18 September 2020.

  • Because of potentially high numbers for Maths and English Language, there is a later entry deadline of 4 October and the possibility of additional exams in January 2021.

And there’s no need to worry about grades going down: students can keep whichever grade is higher.

What if students miss out on the grades they need for their next step?

Autumn exam results would come too late for GCSE students who planned to start A level courses in September and A level students face the same problem with their university applications.

Given the extraordinary circumstances that students have found themselves in this year, schools and colleges are being encouraged to be more flexible about their sixth form entry requirements. 

The exams watchdog says schools should put “slightly less weight” on pupils getting “one or two lower grades”. 

There are hopes that universities, too, may show greater flexibility with students who miss out on their conditional offers, but that will be up to individual universities to decide. 

What about vocational qualifications?

As vocational and technical qualifications (VTQs) come in many forms, they are not all being treated in the same way by the exam boards and awarding bodies.

Different approaches will be taken depending on the evidence available, and the nature and structure of a qualification.

However, most students will receive calculated grades based on a range of information, including previously banked results, previous assessments and school or college results from recent years.

Unlike with GCSE and A levels, there is no standardisation system in place, but all awarding organisations have to comply with Ofqual’s quality assurance standards and ensure that results are in line with expectations.

You can read more about how vocational qualifications have been calculated here.

Image: anton/stock.adobe.com

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