Year 11 assessments 2021
How will GCSEs be awarded in 2021?
On Thursday 25 February 2021, Gavin Williamson, the Secretary State for Education, confirmed the Government’s and Ofqual’s plans for awarding GCSE, AS and A Level grades this year. He reaffirmed:
‘It is vital [candidates] have confidence that they will get a grade that is a true and just reflection of their work. This year’s students will receive grades determined by their teachers, with assessments covering what they were taught, and not what they have missed.’
The paper (How qualifications will be awarded in 2021) published on the government’s official website by Simon Lebus, the Chief Regulator at Ofqual, on Thursday 25 February 2021, provides a clear explanation for all examination candidates:
‘To be of value, qualifications must reflect what you know, understand and can do and must be widely understood and respected…
For GCSEs, AS and A levels, teachers will assess the standard at which you are performing based only on what you have been taught so that your school or college can determine your grade. Teachers’ judgements should be based on a range of evidence relating to the subject content that your teachers have delivered, either in the classroom or via remote learning.
Teachers will be able to use evidence about your performance gathered throughout your course to inform their judgement. This might include work that you have already completed, mock exam results, homework or in-class tests. Your teachers may also use questions from exam boards, largely based on past papers, to help assess you, but this won’t be compulsory.’
We recognise this decision follows a period of great uncertainty for all of our pupils and their teachers and we fully appreciate the importance placed on exam grades and the impact they can have on determining our young people’s futures.
We have actively encouraged all of our pupils to stay with us and persevere in their studies.
We have been impressed by our pupils’ readiness to engage in learning, both when in school and when required to learn from home and we hope the clear direction we have now all been given will alleviate the concerns many of our pupils may have about what happens next.
In January 2021 - A Challenging Month - we gave pupils and their parents an indication that it was ‘highly likely that pupils in Year 11 will complete assessments or shorter tests in May and June to ascertain their attainment and inform their grades.’
Following the Department for Education’s consultation in January 2021, it has been confirmed that schools will be responsible for awarding grades based on a range of evidence. This evidence will be then be subject to rigorous moderation against the criteria for assessment, both within the school, across schools and by the examination boards. Ofqual has confirmed that:
- Teachers must assess their students’ performance, only on what content has been delivered to them by their teachers, to determine the grade each student should receive;
- Teachers can use evidence of a student’s performance from throughout the course to inform their judgement;
- Teachers should determine the grades as late in the academic year as is practicable, and not confined to a defined window, to enable teaching to continue for as long as possible;
- Schools and colleges should use a broad range of evidence across the taught content to determine the grades before submitting the grades to the exam boards;
- Heads of centres will have to confirm that students have been taught sufficient content to allow progression to the next stage of their education.
Following our experience in 2020, when we were required to award centre assessed grades for the first time, we had already anticipated that we may have to do the same again in 2021 and faculty teams adjusted their practice accordingly. However, we recognise there will be differences this year.
Pupils in this year’s Year 11 have experienced two periods of lockdown, one in Year 10 (March-July 2020) and one in Year 11 (January–March 2021). Some pupils at Deer Park also experienced shorter periods of self-isolation in November/December 2020. To mitigate this and to enable pupils and teachers to stay connected and continue with their learning, we adopted the use of MS Teams as the vehicle for teaching live lessons early from April 2020. Attendance in these sessions has been high and our subject leaders and teachers have worked hard to ensure our pupils have been taught to the required breadth and depth to enable them to progress into the next phase of their learning.
While there have been some adjustments by the exam board’s nationally to the specifications to reflect the potential impact of the pandemic on face-to-face teaching across the country, pupils in this year’s Year 11 for the reasons above have spent significantly less time in school and missed out on some key milestones, including their mock exams in January 2021. Subject teachers have been undertaking informal assessments both in school and online, but as courses come to an end we need to ensure our pupils are given every opportunity to show us what they ‘know, understand and can do’.
To help us all at Deer Park ensure these important decisions about grades are accurate and informed, we have scheduled two formal assessment periods for all pupils in Year 11. These will focus on what has been taught across Key Stage 4:
It is important that pupils understand the purpose and appreciate the value of these assessments. They are not mock exams.
We are currently working with our subject leaders to determine the nature and scope of these assessments, but it is highly likely that they will be undertaken with a level of control, they may be shorter in length and may focus on different elements of each course in each assessment period. However, this may vary from subject to subject.
A timetable for the first assessment period and further guidance will be available in the week beginning Monday 1 March.
We will be following the guidance provided by Ofqual and some subjects will be using the new materials provided by the exam boards for this purpose.
The need for these assessments should not come as a surprise to our pupils as they were strongly encouraged to revise for their mock exams in January and were subsequently advised in January - Welcome Back to Remote Learning - that these assessments had provisionally been re-scheduled in Term 4. Our subject leaders have confirmed that much of the work undertaken during this latest period of lockdown has focused on revision in preparation for assessments on their return to school.
We have chosen to give our pupils 3 weeks’ notice of these assessments and their teachers will provide direction, advice and support.
These assessments provide opportunities for our pupils to show us what they ‘know, understand and can do’ and how, in response to the challenge, they have been able to achieve more than they first thought possible! They have already shown incredible resilience.
While these assessments will form an important part of our evidence base in determining our centre assessed grades, we will also consider the evidence of our pupils’ performance throughout their courses. The later assessment period, which is broadly in line with when GCSEs would have started, will enable teaching to continue for as long as possible. However, we have had to leave sufficient time for marking, the completion of overall assessments and moderation to take place before Ofqual’s deadline of Friday 18 June 2021.
It is imperative that our process in awarding centre assessed grades is both fair and rigorous. We cannot compromise the value of the GCSEs. The head of centre declaration includes the following points:
- The centre considers the grades to be accurate;
- Any information given by the centre about the evidence relied on is accurate and takes into account evidence from other centres a student has attended;
- The centre has completed quality assurance as specified by the exam board and their own internal procedures
- Students entered were those who were already studying the course and had intended to enter for the qualification;
- Students have completed sufficient content to enable them to progress to the next stage of their education;
- The centre is satisfied that work completed by each student is their own;
- Where students required access arrangements or reasonable adjustments these were provided, with appropriate input from the SENCO and/or other specialists;
- The centre has taken note of any guidance issued by the exam boards about how to minimise bias and discrimination and is confident that their judgements are fair;
- The evidence and all relevant records are available for inspection.
We are mindful of our pupils’ wellbeing and concerned to support them through to the end of Year 11. However, as a life skill, especially if they chose to pursue further academic study, it is important that our pupils have the experience of sitting exams and managing their own revision and nerves in preparation for future assessments post 16 and at university.
I am extremely grateful to our staff for the commitment they have made to helping our pupils learn in the face of adversity. We have consistently adopted the mantra ‘keep calm and carry on’ and most of our pupils have endeavoured to be the best they can be! They have responded positively, risen to the challenges and demonstrated independent learning skills that will undoubtedly continue to serve them well into the future. While our teachers are keen to ensure that pupils in their classes can achieve well, we cannot assess thin air and, therefore, need tangible evidence to inform our judgements. We will continue to exercise our professional integrity. As we did in 2020, we will implement a very robust programme to ensure that there is no subject where a single member of staff is responsible for deciding the grade a pupil is most likely to achieve; all evidence will be collated and moderated. We are determined to continue to give our pupils every opportunity to shine and we all want to ensure they have secure foundations on which to build as they move into the next phase of their learning.
Chiquita Henson, Headteacher