Awarding academic grades in 2021 without exams

This article applies to GCSE, AS and A levels (for BTEC, OCR Cambridge Technicals, Pre-U, Core Maths, IB, professional and technical qualifications see our article: Awarding vocational and technical qualifications in 2021)

In brief

The Government has confirmed that, without examinations, grades for students of GCSE, A and AS level will be awarded by teacher assessment this year. Schools will receive guidance on what they should take into account. To maximise teaching and learning time for the rest of the academic year, teachers won’t need to submit grades to examination centres until 18 June. Results days have been brought forward to allow students more time if they want to appeal against their grades: 10 August for A/AS levels and 12 August for GCSEs. Students can sit an examination in the autumn term or apply for resits in 2022 if they don’t feel their final grade is fair.

Awarding academic grades without exams: The Parents' Guide to

How will teachers assess grades?

Teachers will be encouraged to use a broad range of evidence, such as course work, tests, mock exams, homework, in class and online learning. Students will be told which parts of their work count towards their grade. Although there will be no Centre Assessed examinations, past papers will be provided by the exam boards, and some teachers may test knowledge and understanding of parts of the syllabus by setting exams. This is not compulsory, so there will be different approaches depending on teacher preferences.

Schools will receive support materials, including questions, mark schemes and advice on making grading judgements to help teachers with this process. Subject teachers will lead on selecting grades, but there will also be input from other teachers in the department and from more senior staff members.

How is this different from last year?

There’s two fundamental differences. In 2020, only work completed ahead of the March school closures was included as part of teacher assessment. Teacher assessed grades were then subject to adjustment by Ofqual and exam boards to standardise grades in line with how individual schools usually perform. This year, all work can be included in teacher assessments and there will be no adjustment following submission of grades, although exam boards will carry out quality assurance checks including both random sampling and more targeted scrutiny.

Teenage boy taking sixth form exams
Awarding grades without examinations

What does this mean for my child?

It means they should stay focused! Schools have been asked to leave submission of grades as late as possible to extend teaching time. That means the work your child is doing now and into the summer term will likely be considered, alongside work they have done so far, in evaluating their final grades. Also, whilst examinations may be cancelled, that doesn’t mean they’re off the hook from taking exams: “mini exams” may form part of their overall assessment.

How is this fair when my child’s missed so much schooling?

If students have not completed the entire course because parts of the syllabus have not been covered due to school closures, they will not be penalized for this. Teacher assessment will be based only on what’s been taught and the grades awarded will reflect the level of achievement within these parameters.

To avoid students moving on to study for further qualifications when they are insufficiently prepared, headteachers will be asked to confirm that students have been taught enough to continue to the next stage of their educational journey.

Results days

10 August – A and AS levels (moved from 12 August)

12 August – GCSEs (moved from 19 August)

Appeals and results

A student can appeal their grade if they don’t feel it’s fair. This first involves checking whether the school or college has made any administrative or procedural errors and then whether the final grade reflects an appropriate exercise of academic judgement. Exam boards will have the final say. Don’t forget – grades can go down as well as up when appealed.

Students can also choose to sit an examination in the autumn term or apply for resits in 2022 to improve their final grades.

University applications

Students with conditional offers that don’t achieve the required grades can still apply through Clearing as usual. Universities UK provided reassurance, saying: “University admissions teams will pull out all the stops to make sure that this year's applicants get the opportunity to fulfil their potential at university”.

Results Day flow chart: Did your child meet the required grades for their first choice university?
A level Results Day flow chart

Find out more:

The Parents' Guide to Post 16 Options (full edition)