GCSE and A-Level students could sit mini-exams at home

GCSE and A-Level pupils could sit mini-exams at home as Ofqual proposes teachers will assess final results to avoid a repeat of the algorithm debacle

  • Ofqual has published plans that determine how teachers should assess students
  • Proposals state where exams were due to be taken, boards should make papers available for students to sit at school or college under teacher supervision
  • Plans state where pandemic makes it essential students could sit exams at home
  • Watchdog says papers should be used as part of final assessments by teachers 

Students could take ‘mini-exams’ at home to help teachers determine their GCSE and A Level grades with results day being brought forward to July.

The qualifications watchdog Ofqual published plans yesterday which outline how they propose teachers assess students this year after exams have been cancelled.

Through a consultation, Ofqual suggests that teachers should make their decisions based on ‘evidence of the standard at which their students are performing’.

This should include coursework and, where exams were due to be taken, Ofqual advises that exam boards should make papers available for students to sit in school.

It states that all students should be assessed by their teachers in May and June so that results day could be brought forward to July instead of August. 

Pupils in England could be asked to complete exam papers at home if the pandemic prevents them from sitting the test at school or college under proposals from exam regulator Ofqual

Ofqual goes on to state that where pupils cannot sit the exam at school, they could complete the papers at home.

The consultation reads: ‘We expect that students’ performance will be assessed within their school or college – we are hopeful that the course of the pandemic will make this possible in line with public health guidance in place at the time.

‘However, even if this is possible for most students, it might not be possible for all.

‘We therefore propose that, if the pandemic makes it essential, where papers are to be used in the final assessment, the papers could be completed at an alternative venue, including a student’s home, where that is an option.’

It adds that any student who is not able to complete the assessments under the supervision of a teacher will be required to ‘make an appropriate declaration that they had not received unauthorised assistance’.  

It said the papers could be based on a combination of questions from past papers and new questions.

Ofqual has advised that teachers should use exam paper results to help them make an ‘objective’ determination on grades but that they should ‘draw on a range of broader evidence of a student’s work’ to make the final decision.

Teachers would then submit their grades to the exam boards for ‘external quality assurance’. 

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, described the proposals as ‘sensible’ but said there were a number of important questions to be resolved

Under the plans proposed in the consultation, all students would be able to appeal their results but grades would only be changed where there has been an error in marking.

Responding to Ofqual’s consultation Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, described the proposals as ‘sensible’ but said there were a ‘number of important questions to be resolved’. 

He added: ‘We can see how a set of papers with flexibility for teachers over the choice of topics on which their students could answer questions might achieve these objectives.

‘However, these papers will need to be exceptionally well designed, and this will be a huge challenge given that time is short and nothing like this has been attempted before.

‘The proposals avoid the pitfalls of last summer by jettisoning any notion of trying to standardise grades by using an algorithm.

‘However, this will mean that the support and guidance provided to schools and colleges, and the quality assurance processes, will need to be clear and logical in order to ensure that there is consistency in how grades are awarded.

‘All of this adds up to a huge and complex task for the exam boards and we would be very happy to support them in this vital work.

‘We will respond in detail to the consultation in due course.’

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: ‘We are pleased to finally see the publication of the consultation on arrangements for awarding qualifications this summer, but almost two weeks have already passed since the announcement that exams are cancelled.

‘Students, parents and teachers need to know quickly what will influence their final grades to prepare effectively and to maintain high levels of motivation and engagement in learning.

‘Our members are clear that they want to maximise learning time and ensure the learning experience given to all students will help them prepare for their next steps.

‘To allow for this, final assessments must take place as late as possible in the summer term, in June when exams were due to take place, and over a period of time which does not put unreasonable pressure onto students. 

‘It is absolutely vital that teachers are given the flexibility to adapt these assessments to assess students on what they have been taught; a one size test will not fit all.

‘We are concerned about the proposed processes for appeals. The suggestion that initial appeals are made directly to the school or college is misguided in principle, and logistically very problematic.

‘Whatever process is finally put in place by Ofqual, it needs to withstand the worst-case scenario that all students are not back in school or college for face to face teaching after February half term.’

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