What will happen with GCSEs in 2021?



With every expectation that COVID-19 disruptions will continue into 2021, the Government has opened a consultation on how 2021 assessments will be managed.


You can read more about his and give your input on the Government website until 16th July.


It's reassuring to know that allowances will be made, but understandably a worry until it is confirmed what that will look like.


National Tutoring Programme


What we do know is that there will be a National Tutoring Programme available for the most disadvantaged students, which is a fantastic endorsement of the benefit tutors can provide to students in a one to one or small group setting. I regularly see students move up several grades with just a couple of months of focused tuition.


I've also seen it spur a raft of CPD options for independent tutors to help them match up to the standards required on the National Tutoring Programme. And it can only be a good thing to see a focus on quality across the profession.


It is likely this will be focused on the core subjects of maths, science, and English. The proposals currently put forward by Ofqual suggest the least changes to these curricula and examinations in 2021, and so students will need to prioritise these in their studies.


Summer 2021 exams going ahead


Unlike this summer, students should expect to sit their exams next year, as per the statement below.


"It is government policy that exams and assessments should go ahead in the next academic year. Government’s policy objectives are that:


  • students taking exams and assessments next year can progress successfully to the next stage of their education or to employment

  • every effort should be made to maintain the standard and rigour of the qualifications, to the extent that this is possible, given the unique circumstances

  • students taking A levels should be able to progress successfully to higher education

  • students taking GCSEs should be able to progress successfully to A levels or to other level 3 qualifications

  • the content, specified by DfE, which forms the foundation of the subjects should not be changed"


What those exams will look like, though, is subject to change.


They are likely to happen slightly later in the year, although I would predict still within the school calendar. So that would move them into July and give back an extra month.


Alongside this, there is mention of 'sampling' and 'optional questions'. I've seen exams in the past where there were several topic options within one exam, and students answered the questions on the topic they had studied. Having this approach would, for example, allow students to miss out a section of the paper that covered a topic they hadn't been taught due to the school closures. This would mitigate the impact of the differences between schools where subjects are covered in different orders.


Not only does this prevent unfairness, and allow students to sit exams next summer, but it also gives the possibility for students to make their lives easier by focusing their studies on the topics where they can get the most marks.


But before you decide you're not going to read one of your assigned English texts, wait for confirmation from your school on how these changes will be implemented. You don't want to drop the wrong thing!


These decisions are due to be announced this summer before the 2020 grades are released, so there's not going to be a long wait. And in the meantime, it is certainly important to keep up with the work set from school.


Back to school in September


The Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson, has said for certain that schools will be open to all students from September, with fines being reintroduced for absences. However, I don't expect that the school hours will be the same at that point, and it is likely that students still won't be having as much time with their teachers as they were at the beginning of this year. It is fair to assume that social distancing will still be in place, as far as that can be managed, and that may mean staggered hours, using unfamiliar classrooms, lunch at the desk, and sometimes still learning online.


Some of the more practical elements of teaching will be different if the proposed changes are put in place, as allow the most amount of time back for the smallest impact, and also present the biggest challenge to social distancing.


  • Students will not be required to complete a programming exercise for GCSE Computer Science.

  • Biology, Chemistry, and Physics practicals may be demonstrated instead of the students carrying them out.

  • The GCSE English spoken assessment will no longer be recorded and can be delivered to just the teacher, which will reduce the pressure on students.

  • GCSE Art will no longer have a final exam.

  • GCSE Drama students will not be required to attend a theatre performance

  • GCSE Geography students will not be required to participate in a field trip.

  • GCSE Design and Technology students will not be required to use equipment and tools but may watch demonstrations of how they work instead.


Grade boundaries


As always when there is a change in the exam conditions, this is borne in mind when grade boundaries are set. Ofqual has already promised leniency in setting grade boundaries for next year, using 'statistical predictions to guide' the grades.


Getting ahead


As always, there is the potential in all of this for extra work now to gain an advantage. The proposal document states:


"Students who had been taught the full range of content would be able to draw on their wider knowledge of the subject when answering questions in the exam. This might enable them to achieve higher marks than students who had been taught only a part. Students who were taught and had revised all of the content would also be advantaged by having a greater choice of questions to answer. "


Clearly those students who are working with a tutor familiar with their exam specification will have an advantage over those studying a reduced curriculum in school. And as always, it is recommended to start revising as early as possible to give the best chance of success.



If you'd like to know more about these and other proposed changes for the 2021 exams, as well as hearing how your child might get ahead, sign up for my free webinar happening 11am on 20th July at https://calendly.com/greentutors/parent-webinar-preparing-for-gcses-in-2021.



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