Last week, the exams regulator (Ofqual) and the Department for Education published information about how exams will work in 2022. This included information about adaptations to exams to accommodate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on education, the standards which will be used to grade examinations in 2022, results days, and contingency plans in case the pandemic further disrupts education this year. In this week’s blog, I have summarised the key announcements which affect Churchill students taking GCSE, A-level, Cambridge National, BTEC, Cambridge Technical and other qualifications for assessment in summer 2022. I have also recorded a short presentation for students, which you can view below.
Adaptations to exams
Ofqual and the Department for Education have recognised that the pandemic has significantly impacted the educational experience of students over the past two years. To take account of this, the following adaptations will be made to examinations in 2022:
- GCSE English literature, history, and geography: there will be optional topic and content for these qualifications. This means that certain topics, normally on the specification for assessment, will not be required for the exams in 2022. At Churchill, this means:
- GCSE English literature: the poetry anthology will not be assessed
- GCSE history: Elizabethan England 1558-1588 will not be assessed
- GCSE geography: paper 1, topic 3: challenges of an urbanising world will not be assessed
- GCSE sciences: if necessary, centres will be allowed to deliver practical work in GCSE sciences by demonstration. We will not be using this adaptation at Churchill as we believe it is essential that students taking GCSE sciences experience practical work themselves, rather than simply seeing it demonstrated.
- A level sciences: centres will be allowed to assess the Common Practical Assessment Criteria (CPAC) across the minimum number of practical activities required to enable students to demonstrate their competence in A-level biology, chemistry, and physics. We will not be using this adaptation as we believe it is important for our A-level scientists to experience the full range of practical work available to them with our state-of-the-art equipment and facilities in the Athene Donald Building. We believe that this will support their progress and lead to better examination outcomes.
- GCSE and A-level art and design and textiles: students taking GCSE, AS and A level art and design (including textiles) will be assessed on their portfolio only, with no final examination.
- Advance notice for all other GCSE, AS and A-level subjects: exam boards will provide advanced information about the focus of the content of exams for all GCSE, AS and A-level subjects except GCSE English literature, history, and geography by 7 February 2022 at the latest. This is normally the time by which the majority of courses of study have been completed, and teaching turns to exam preparation and revision. This adaptation means that teachers and candidates will know which topics will and won’t come up in the exams in the summer, enabling revision to focus just on those aspects which will be assessed.
- Formula sheets: students will be given a formula sheet for GCSE mathematics and a revised equation sheet for GCSE physics and combined science. This means that they will not need to memorise so many formulae and equations in preparation for the exams – although they will still need to know how and when to use them correctly.
We think that this is a reasonable and fair set of adaptations to take account of pandemic disruption. It will relieve pressure on the intensive revision period through the spring, enabling students and their teachers to focus on the content they will need for their exams in the summer.
There has been much discussion about what standard will be used to assess examinations in 2022. The “standard” essentially means deciding how many candidates should receive each grade in each subject – how many “A” grades, “B” grades and so on there should be (or the equivalent numerical grades at GCSE). A significantly higher number of candidates achieved the top grades nationally in 2020 and 2021 under the Centre Assessed Grades and Teacher Assessed Grades systems used in place of exams, than achieved top grades the last time exams were sat (in 2019).
Ofqual has announced that it intends to get back quickly to how grading was before the pandemic. However, to recognise the disruption from the pandemic, they won’t do it in one jump. Instead, 2022 will be a transition year to reflect that we are in a pandemic recovery period. The standard set by Ofqual for 2022 will reflect a point midway between 2021 and 2019 when it comes to grading, before returning in 2023 to results that are in line with those before the pandemic began. Jo Saxton, the Chief Regulator, explains the rationale for this decision in a blog on Ofqual’s website, which you can read here.
We feel this is a reasonable compromise, with a return to normal exam standards preceded by a transition year which recognises the disruption caused by COVID-19. It means that more top grades will be available to students in 2022 than was the case in 2019, or than will be the case in 2023. All students, across England, will be competing across the same exam papers to achieve those grades.
We do not yet know what this midway point between 2021 and 2019 will look like on a subject-by-subject basis. Exam boards will use data as a starting point, to align their standards in a subject. But the grade boundaries for each subject will be set by the senior examiners after they have reviewed the work produced by students in their exams – these boundaries will not be available to teachers or to candidates in advance.
UCAS predicted grades
For Year 13 students applying to university or other courses through UCAS, teachers have been advised to use the 2019 standards to determine predicted grades. This is because 2019 was the last time clear grade boundaries in each subject were published, so it is the only consistent standard it is possible to use. Here at Churchill we will use existing Year 12 assessments and the 2019 grading standards to generate UCAS predicted grades, although we will follow the regulator’s guidance to give any borderline students the benefit of any doubt in this process. Please remember, however, that UCAS predictions are made by teachers using their professional judgment and experience; they cannot be negotiated upwards by students or their families.
Results days will be on:
- Thursday 18th August 2022: AS, A-level and other level 3 qualifications
- Thursday 25th August 2022: GCSE and other level 2 qualifications
Further details about the format of these days will be released nearer the time.
Having learned the lesson of the past two years, I am pleased to confirm that the government is drawing up contingency plans in case the pandemic takes an unexpected turn and exams cannot proceed in summer 2022 as planned. The current proposals are that Teacher Assessed Grades would again be used, but with much clearer guidance on the kinds of evidence that could be used to support the teacher assessment. This is likely to be based around mock exams in the majority of subjects.
At Churchill, we hope and expect that exams will go ahead as planned in 2022. However, all examination candidates, especially those in Year 11 and 13, should prepare for their mock exams as though they were the real thing. Not only will this provide a good evidence base in case of further disruption, but it will put students at a significant advantage in terms of revision and preparation for the summer.
Exam preparation advice
The announcements last week confirm the plan for exams to go ahead in 2022, with some additional support to recognise the disruption to education that students have experienced. We believe these measures are as fair as could be expected in the circumstances.
Our message to students is this: your exams are going ahead. You know what you need to revise, and you will be able to focus this even more as you approach the summer. Listen to the feedback you get from your teachers, and use the revision techniques that you have been given and that will continue to be provided throughout the year. Don’t leave it all until the last minute: you should be revising consistently, a little and often, throughout this year.
Above all, keep a sense of balance and proportion: these exams are important, and we know they really matter, but you also need to look after yourselves. Make sure you are taking regular breaks, maintaining your leisure activities, and talking to someone you trust if you are struggling. We want you to get the best possible results, whilst staying healthy: keeping things in balance and proportion is your top priority. We will do everything we can to support you with this.