What does the exams U-turn mean for A-level and GCSE students?

Students have breathed a sigh of relief after they were told their A-level grades will now be based on teachers’ assessments if these were higher than their moderated marks.

GCSE pupils nervously awaiting their results on Thursday can also choose the grades their teachers determined instead of the controversial algorithm that Ofqual devised.

The government’s U-turn comes after the exams regulator revealed that nearly two in five (39.1%) A-level grades predicted by teachers were reduced.

Here, Sky News answers some of the key questions facing students over their exam results.

So, which grades can be used?

A-level and GCSE students can use the grades submitted by schools and colleges to exam boards, called Centre Assessment Grades (CAGs) – if their moderated grade was lower.

Teachers submitted grades they believe the students would have received had the coronavirus pandemic not forced the cancellation of this summer’s exams.

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Ofqual created an algorithm that would moderate these grades to relatively reflect previous years.

Following controversy over the algorithm, students can now keep their calculated grade from exam boards, but if their schools’ original estimated grade was higher then they can use that result.

What were the issues with moderated grades?

Ofqual’s algorithm was criticised for penalising disadvantaged students and benefiting private pupils.

Schools and colleges with larger cohorts reportedly saw more grades downgraded than those with smaller ones.

Can appeals still be made on the basis of mock exams?

Students were promised last week that they could use the highest result out of their calculated grade from exam boards, their mock exam or sitting the actual exam in the autumn – under a “triple lock pledge”.

But Mr Williamson has said mock exam results will no longer be a key part of the appeals process for A-level and GCSE students.

Students can sit exams in the autumn if they are unsatisfied with both their calculated grade and centre assessment grade.

More guidance on appeals has not been published, but exam boards only have a matter of weeks to issue outcomes as the UCAS deadline for applicants to meet their offer conditions is 7 September.

Students from Codsall Community High School march to the constituency office of their local MP Gavin Williamson, who is also the Education Secretary, as a protest over the continuing issues of last week's A level results which saw some candidates receive lower-than-expected grades after their exams were cancelled as a result of coronavirus
The decision came too late for some

Will universities be able to admit students who now have the grades?

The government has said it will remove temporary student number controls – introduced this year to stop over-recruitment due to COVID-19 – to help students progress.

Politicians have called for flexibility for universities in admitting students to courses, saying they expect them to honour all offers made and met.

However, some have reported fears that increased numbers will cause a lack of capacity, staffing, accommodation and facilities, especially while trying to uphold COVID-19 safety measures.

Students who have now secured their first choice after the U-turn may be asked to defer their place by a year if there is no space left on their preferred course.

What will happen with BTEC students’ grades?

Students have called for urgent clarity on how the announcement will affect BTEC pupils.

Mr Williamson said he is hopeful that the change will be extended to the vocational qualifications.

What is happening in each devolved nation?

Last week, the Scottish government was forced into a U-turn after students complained that more than 124,000 test results were downgraded.

It was announced that the lower results would revert to the grades estimated by pupils’ teachers.

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Less than a week later – just four days after A-level results were awarded in England, Northern Ireland and Wales – the other devolved administrations also revealed they were moving to teacher-assessed grades.

Most A-level and GCSE students will be given grades predicted by teachers in Northern Ireland, while Welsh pupils will also now be awarded results on the basis of teacher assessments.


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