GCSE and Baccalaureate examiners are being asked to be more generous this year than in previous years to accommodate the disruptions to education caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Grade limits could be changed in some cases, requiring a lower score for all papers to earn a given grade, but examiners’ generosity could go further, the examination boards said.
England’s examinations body Ofqual has previously announced that grade limits will be set roughly between pre-pandemic 2019 levels and 2021 limits, when teacher assessment was used to set grades.
The news comes after examination boards released details of subjects that will appear as part of changes to the 2022 GCSEs and Baccalaureate exams to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on grades.
The preliminary information is not intended to reduce the amount of content that students must be taught or reviewed.
Students are informed of the subjects to be covered in the summer exams in all subjects except English Literature, History, Ancient History, Geography and Art and Design.
This is to support student preparation and review focus.
The materials do not give so much detail on the likely questions that the answers can be prepared or memorized, the examination boards have recommended.
Advance notices will not always list all topics covered as these are boards which could result in over-revision of a topic.
However, the panels have said that in some subjects all the topics covered are listed to help learners prepare.
They can then prioritize these topics when revising, especially if they use previous paper questions.
For some text-based subjects, such as B. English, the advance information may include the genre or time period from which the unwatched texts used during the exams are from.
Subjects such as art and design, which are only examined as part of the course, do not contain any advance information.
For “summary” questions, designed to cover the full spectrum of a curriculum, there will be no prior information, as otherwise students could be disadvantaged by restricting their review focus to a few select areas, the examination boards said.
Such questions are intended to test students’ broader knowledge, so there is concern that providing prior information would be limiting.
The materials will only be available on the Examination Boards’ websites, with learners cautioned not to look elsewhere for inaccurate or misleading information.
In GCSE Math, Science and Physics, students are given equation sheets to reduce the number of equations they have to memorize.
In the GCSE programs in English Literature, History, Ancient History and Geography – subjects in which no advance information is published – students will study and examine fewer subjects.
Examination boards said they would release the advance information in February rather than earlier in the school year, as principals had requested, so students would not cover a tight curriculum.
In January, Jo Saxton, Ofqual’s top regulator, said the changes to this year’s exams would not benefit more able students amid fears that the lack of advance information for ‘lower’ questions with lower grades would favor more able students.
Sarah Hannafin, senior policy advisor for school leaders’ union NAHT, said the pre-information material “should now provide teachers and students with guidance on where to focus their teaching, review work and exam preparation”.
She added: “Pre-information is not a simple list of what will be scored on the exam; The information is more complex, covers only high profile questions and may only relate to a specific examination paper or part of it, with different approaches between specifications and subjects.
“We have to remember that this is new for teachers so we will only know in the coming days if they believe this is enough to counter the level of disruption students have been facing due to Covid.
“We urge everyone to recognize that the students have gone through one of the most pivotal times in their lives, which can be stressful even at ‘normal’ years.
“They just want a fair chance of succeeding in their exams this summer.”
Education Minister Nadhim Zahawi said: “Exams are the best and fairest form of assessment and we firmly intend for them to take place this summer and give students a fair chance to show their knowledge.
He added: “We know students have faced challenges during the pandemic, which is why we have placed fairness for them at the forefront of our plans. The rework information released today, along with the many other adjustments that will be made, will ensure they hold their own in their Trials this summer.”
Ofqual’s chief regulator, Dr. Jo Saxton said students have shown “resilience” during the pandemic and Ofqual knows “they are looking for reassurance”.
“The advance notice released today is one of the ways we are helping students have that peace of mind as they prepare to show what they know and can do,” she added.
“We also make sure there is a safety net for students with a generous approach to grading,” she said.
dr Saxton said examiners were asked to be more generous in setting grade limits to provide a safety net for students who might otherwise miss their grades.
But while grading guidelines are set to be more generous than they were before the pandemic, students won’t have as much leeway as they did last year.
The Liberal Democrats said this means 90,644 children could lose top grades compared to 2021.
The party’s analysis found that 24,524 GCSE students would miss grades 7, 8 or 9 and 66,120 A-level students would miss grades 7, 8 or 9, compared to the grading system used last year.
The party called for a hybrid approach that would use a combination of traditional exams along with input from teacher assessments.
Lib Dem Chair Sir Ed Davey said: “Students taking exams this year have had their entire course affected by the pandemic – from start to finish. Grade cuts this year are indiscriminate, pointless and heartless if the pandemic is still ongoing.
“Our children have worked as hard as they could in incredibly difficult circumstances and their grades should reflect their hard work rather than being artificially reduced by an unthinking government.”
dr Saxton said: “The Government is fully committed to the exams taking place this summer and does not expect that to change except in the very unlikely event of a public health emergency preventing students from doing so to take exams physically,” she said.
Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU teaching union, said the release of the preliminary information was “too late”.
She said the NEU members had requested the release of advance information at the start of the academic year and that the information now released would create additional stress for students.
“If one of the topics you see on the list today is one that through no fault of your own you have not been able to address at all or in as depth as a result of Covid-related disruption, what do you do now?” she said.
Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “We look forward to the information being released to help students focus on their resit for this summer’s exams.
“It is extremely important that this really helps mitigate the impact of the pandemic on learning and we will be investigating it in detail to ensure it is appropriate for students of all ability levels.”
An Ofqual spokesman said: “There will be a generous grading alongside the other adjustments discussed at the Joint Council for Qualifications technical briefing today.
“This will be delivered after the assessment is complete and the lead examiners have established grade boundaries. This likely means that grade limits will be slightly lower than in a normal year, but grade limits are never set in advance and so we cannot be precise at this point in the year.”
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