Ofqual and Department for Education Consultation on Summer 2021 Exams Published

A chance to have your say as 2-week consultation on proposed options for summer 2021 exams includes specific section on the needs of private candidates

What’s been said?

As  indicated in our previous Byte on the cancelled public exam series, on Friday 15 January Ofqual and the Department for Education (DfE) published their expected consultation on how GCSE, AS & A Level grades should be awarded in 2021. The document can be found here.

It is heartening to see that the needs of private candidates – which include home educated young people – are being recognised and taken into account in the decision-making process this year. Indeed, the consultation document states that “we wish to be confident that there will be a route available for all private candidates to receive a grade.”

The consultation is “open to anyone who wants to respond but will be of most interest to students who had been expecting to take their GCSE, AS or A level exams this summer, their parents and carers, their teachers, school and college leaders, exams officers and those who use the qualifications to make selection decisions, such as further and higher education institutions and employers.” The response page can be found here.

Be warned, however, that there is a necessarily short window to respond to this consultation and it closes on Friday 29 January at 23:45.

In order to fully understand the context, the sections mentioned in this Byte should be read as part of the whole document, but, in summary, for “students studying independently, and home educated students,” section 11 is the most pertinent. Devoted entirely to private candidates, this section states that “(Ofqual and the DfE) want to build into the approach opportunities for private candidates…to be awarded grades in summer 2021.” It goes on to list “4 possible approaches,” along with a series of questions on those options.

It could also be argued that Sections 1 and 12 may apply to private candidates.

Section 1 lays out a helpful proposed timeline for teacher assessment. This process would take place a few weeks earlier than the now-cancelled exam timetables: “Students would be assessed by their teachers in a period beginning in May into early June.”

Section 12 considers “whether Ofqual should prohibit the taking of GCSE, AS and A level exams in England, the UK and elsewhere in the world.” This addresses the possibility of “exams (being) safely taken in at least some countries, and as exams are the best way to assess student performance, it might be appropriate to allow them to be taken by students who will not otherwise be able to be issued with a grade,” acknowledging that “exams might also be the best route for private candidates in England.”

Why does it matter?

Firstly, it should be emphasised that this consultation relates only to GCSEs, AS and A Levels: these are the exams which come under Qfqual’s remit.

However, whilst the International GCSEs (IGCSE) often taken by home educated young people and International A Levels (IAL) are not regulated by Ofqual, it should be noted that last summer’s decisions on IGCSEs & IALs were influenced by conclusions reached about Ofqual-regulated exams. (Edexcel, for example, offers both the Ofqual-regulated qualifications and the International equivalents.) At the time of writing, both Edexcel and Cambridge examining boards have expressed their wish that IGCSEs continue as planned wherever possible, although, clearly, that cannot be guaranteed in the current pandemic-driven circumstances.

It is an encouraging step forward that private candidates’ needs are being considered and their views are being sought by those with responsibility for exams, and it is important for home-educated exam students and their parents to have the opportunity to express their views.

What can I do?

In response to last year’s chaos, a group of parents involved in the long-established Home Education Exams UK email list – their website is HE Exams Wiki – decided to try and start up a conversation with Ofqual. They now have their own email list, Home Educators’ Qualifications Association and website. If you are motivated to contribute to this discussion, or simply support those involved, consider joining HEQA.

If you have an exam-aged student affected by the cancellations, or who would be affected by IGCSE/IAL cancellations, please respond to this consultation. You can select which questions to answer and it is important for your voice to be heard. Even if your young person is not due to take GCSEs, AS or A levels this summer, the decisions on whether or how to proceed with the international qualifications, IGCSE and IAL, in the UK may eventually be determined by policies based upon feedback to this consultation.

Finally, a reminder that the closing date is Friday 29 January at 23:45.