Coronavirus: Information on Exams and Grades for Students in UK

This year’s summer exams, including GCSEs, A levels, and other qualifications have been cancelled due to the pandemic. However, the exam regulator, Ofqual, and exam boards in the UK will be working with teachers to provide grades to students who will not be entering summer exams in 2020 due to the cancellation.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been causing unprecedented challenges to, firstly, the day-to-day lives of people, businesses, and education and it is currently crucial to slow the spread of the virus. People are constantly being advised to avoid social interactions as much as possible, while universities have switched to online classes in order to avoid face-to-face teaching as a safety measure against the disease.

The education system has also been facing challenges and disruptions during this pandemic. Although UK universities are trying their best to make sure the distributions are minimal while proceeding with classes virtually, grading students has been yet another challenge they had to tackle. The education sector wants to make sure that the educational progress of the young generation faces as little disruption as possible and that students will be able to progress with their education normally when the pandemic ends.

Just recently, arrangements have been made with regards to cancelled exams due to coronavirus. More specifically, students will be able to be graded for their GCSEs, AS and A levels this summer, through a process which recognizes and evaluates students’ work in order to come up with a specific grade. These grades will be awarded this summer, and anyone who does not want to accept the grade can enter the exam as soon as possible, early on the next academic year.

While education is currently proceeding on an online-basis, with the majority of classes being conducted virtually, grading still seems to be a point of discussion. Universities are expected to be flexible and support students on their journey towards higher education. The aim of the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual) is to be fair to all students and ensure they are able to proceed with sixth form, college, university, or any training or work which would be impacted by the cancellation of exams.

In a letter directed towards all GCSE, AS and A level students this summer, the chief regulator of Ofqual, Sally Collier, writes:

“Please be reassured that the grades you get this summer will look exactly the same as in previous years, and they will have equal status with universities, colleges and employers, to help you move forward in your lives as planned.”

The grades will be calculated through pieces of information that your school or college sends about you. This information includes the instructors’ knowledge on your work and achievements on each of your subjects. You will be assigned a grade which the school or college think you would get if you were to enter the exam. Additionally, for each grade and within each subject, an order of students by performance should also be submitted. This will help to standardize judgement and create an equal standard in different schools and colleges.

The grades that your school sends for you are confidential, and you must not require to see them. Firstly, because the final grade you get might not be the one that the school of college has sent to the exam board. The exam board will use the information sent by institutions in order to give a fair assessment to everyone since not all schools and colleges have the same grading standards. Basically, what your school will submit, depending on the resources, is your classwork, homework, assignments, non-exam assessments, mock exams, or other course work. Your grade will not be affected if you were unable to complete any assignment given after school closures.

For those who are enrolled in distance learning programmes or are being homeschooled, your school/centre should send all the information they have about your achievements or performance. If they are unable to send something sufficient to make a judgement, then you might be required to enter the exam early on the upcoming academic year. Ofqual and exam boards are working to offer the possibility of additional exams on the autumn term for all those who will be left without a grade or are unsatisfied with the one they received.

These grades will allow students to progress in their next stage of education and will have equal status to the grades that were awarded in the previous year. They will also be reported in the same way as they previously were in results slips and certificates. Universities, colleges, and employers are expected to treat these grades equally as they would have, had the exams not been cancelled.

Students are expected to get their grading results in August and possibly earlier. For those who want to enter the exams early on the new academic year and also want to apply to university, it is uncertain whether universities will be flexible enough in admission decisions or when it comes to delaying entry courses, taking into consideration that exam results might be delayed. It all depends on the higher education institution. Alternatively, students may also choose to take their exams in summer of 2021.

It is possible that universities might also be impacted by the current coronavirus situation, however, the Government and the higher education sector are working to ensure that the admission system will remain fair and equal for all students. Universities Minister Michelle Donelan, claimed that students should not feel pressured and make quick decisions, she said:

“We must also look out for students too, who in these uncertain times may be feeling anxious about their futures. I want to reassure students that we will provide them with the grades they need. No student should feel pressured into making a quick decision which may end up not being in their best interest.”

She also urged universities to “act responsibly to maintain the integrity of the higher education system”, on a press release published on March, 23. She advised against changing the applicants’ offers from ‘conditional’ to ‘unconditional’, in order to secure their attendance in the upcoming academic year. This, she claimed, would contribute to financial uncertainty and might destabilise the admission system and should be refrained for the next two weeks.