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Briefings, News and Updates from Ofqual:

Awarding vocational and technical qualifications (VTQs) in 2021-22 (2 December 2021)


The government’s intention is that exams and other formal assessments, including for VTQs and other general qualifications, will go ahead in the academic year 2021 to 2022. Ofqual has considered how regulations can help make this happen. Ofqual has published guidancefor awarding VTQs in this academic year.

Ofqual guidance on contingency arrangements for GCSEs, AS and A levels in summer 2022 (11 November 2021)

Ofqual 2022 contingency guidancefor GCSE, AS and A level - Arrangements for exams and non-exam assessments for students taking qualifications in summer 2022.

Ofqual - Apply to be an external expert (9 November 2021)

Ofqual is inviting applications for external experts to help with their work on qualifications and assessments for GCSEs, A levels, a wide range of vocational and technical qualifications and new apprenticeship end-point assessments. External experts help to ensure the qualifications Ofqual regulates are fit for purpose, ensuring that the right things can be assessed in a consistent way. Find out more here.

National Reference Test – NfER guidance

The National Reference Test (NRT) was introduced to provide additional information to support the awarding of GCSEs. It provides evidence of how performance has changed over time. Ofqual has appointed National Foundation for Education Research (NFER) to develop, administer and analyse the test on its behalf. This guidance published yesterday, is made by the NFER on behalf of Ofqual. It is approved and published by the Secretary of State.

In a typical year, the information from the test is used to help set standards in GCSE English language and maths, and the results are considered by Ofqual and the exam boards prior to GCSEs being awarded. This happened for the first time in 2019. The results of the 2021 test are being used to consider the impact of lost learning during the COVID-19 pandemic and to help understand the context of the 2021 cohort when they take other qualifications in the future. In 2022 the results will again provide important longitudinal evidence about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on education for school leaders, exam boards and policy-makers. More information about the NRT is available here.

The NRT will take place in schools in a 2-week period decided by NFER between 28 February and 8 April 2022.

The guidance covers how students will be selected, the role of NFER’s test administrator, the composition and timing of the test, keeping the tests secure, arrangements the school needs to make for the test, access arrangements and responsibilities for providing the access arrangements, recognising schools’ and students’ participation and confidentiality.

Ofqual evaluation report of centre assessed grades in 2020

Ofsted has published two evaluation reports of centre assessment grades and grading gaps in summer 2020.

Ofqual has published a Guide to GCSE results for England 2021 (12 August 2021) alongside a Guide to 2021 Level 1, Level 2 & Level 1/2 results for VTQs.

Student guide to awarding: summer 2021 – updated Ofqual guide (22 July 2021)

The student guides created by Ofqual to support this summer’s awarding process have been updated to include more information about the appeals process. The information within the guides is not new but it has been written in less technical language to help students understand their choices and the appeals process. Schools may wish to share the guide as part of their results day support for students. You can view the guides here.

Ofqual reports

Ofqual has also published a collection of 5 reports (July 2021) studying aspects of learning during the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021.

Ofqual surveys on TAGs (opened 6 July 2021 and closes 7 August 2021)

This week Ofqual launched two surveys to understand the views and experiences of schools, colleges and training providers of the process for Teacher Assessed Grades (TAGs):

Ofqual research on the use of assistive technologies for assessment

Assisted technology (AT) is an umbrella term that can, in the broadest sense, include any device, software or system that is used to support an individual who has some form of disability or impairment. This Ofqual qualitative study sought to explore the use of assistive technologies in assessment. Findings include:

  • Each student has unique requirements that vary across subjects and contexts.
  • Examination question papers could be made more compatible with AT.
  • Schools may not always be fully aware of how AT may be used for assessment.
  • AT often has an impact on the experience of undertaking assessment.
  • AT removes barriers to assessment but sometimes also changes how it is accessed, sometimes introducing forms of construct irrelevant variance.

Consultation outcome

Consultation on guidance in relation to appeals under the GQAA framework in 2021 – Outcome of Ofqual’s consultation (8 June 2021)

Ofqual provisional entries for GCSE, AS and A level: summer 2021

Ofqual has published the provisional entries for the summer 2021 series.

The main trends in provisional entries for GCSE and GCE (AS and A level) for the summer 2021 series are:

  • Overall, GCSE entries remain stable (approximately 5.3m) this year (increasing by 0.4%), though an increase in entries from year 11 students masks decreases in entries from candidates in other year groups.
  • There are small increases in the proportion of entries for the higher tier in most tiered GCSEs.
  • A level entries for the summer 2021 increased by 3% (756,230 in 2021 compared to 731,855 in 2020) overall.
  • The overall entry for AS in summer 2021 decreased by 33% (58,300 in 2021 compared to 86,970 in 2020).

Ofqual and awarding – update (25 May 2021)

Ofqual has published alternative formats of the student guide:

Ofqual has also published several documents that we would like to draw your attention to:

Ofqual complaints procedure – updated May 2021

The guidance from Ofqual on how to complain, whistleblow or report malpractice has been updated in relation to the arrangements for 2021. This is not to be confused with the appeals process for awarding grades. Rather, this Ofqual complaints process allows complaints to be made about the awarding organisations it regulates.

Ofqual guidance for centres: awarding of vocational, technical and other general qualifications in summer 2021 – new Ofqual guidance

Ofqual has published guidance ( 20 May 2021) on awarding of vocational, technical and other general qualifications in summer 2021. The guidance outlines what to expect from awarding organisations and the adaptations that have been made this year.

Ofqual corporate plan 2021-2022

Ofqual has published its corporate plan for 2021/22 (19 May 2021).

Ofqual update – teacher judgements

Ofqual has published the following documents:

  • A blog (17 May 2021) on bias in teacher assessment results. The blog contains a link to literature review (17 May 2021) on systematic divergence between teacher and test-based assessment. While the review reaches several conclusions, it does not necessarily follow that there will be bias in teacher assessments this academic year. It does, however, highlight the importance of having safeguards in place, including quality assurance arrangements.

  • A blog (17 May 2021) on teacher judgements in 2021: what we can learn from 2020. The blog contains a link to two detailed reports (17 May 2021) on centre judgement research from summer 2020. Ofqual conducted some research with teaching staff to understand their views and experiences of the judgement process.

Consultation on arrangements for non-exam assessment for some general qualifications in 2022

Ofqual is consulting (14 May 2021) on arrangements for non-exam assessment (NEA) and fieldwork requirements for some GCSE, AS and A level qualifications in 2022. This consultation closes at 11:45pm on 28 May 2021. The news story can be read here (14 May 2021).

Arrangements for an autumn 2021 exam series – updated

The information on the Autumn 2021 exam series has been updated (13 May 2021) to clarify the autumn exams will assess students in the same way as had been planned for exams in summer 2021.

Post Qualification Admissions reform consultation – Ofqual response

Ofqual has written a response (13 May 2021) to the government’s consultation on Post Qualifications Admissions.

Guide to Awarding in 2021 for Students – new publication from Ofqual

Please see the new guide to awarding for students (May 2021) published by Ofqual. The guide explains how GCSEs, A levels, vocational and technical qualifications will be graded and awarded in summer 2021.

There is more information from Ofqual on GCSEs, AS and A levels in 2021​ (10 May 201) and vocational, technical and other general qualification in 2021 (10 May 2021). JCQ have also published information on GCSEs, AS and A levels in 2021.

Update from Ofqual (5 May 2021)

On 27th April Ofqual confirmed how data and evidence of a student’s grades will be submitted in this summer’s awarding.

Schools (centres) will be able to submit students’ grades from Wednesday 26th May until Friday 18th June 2021. Once the grades are received, every centre will be asked to provide samples of student work, as described in Ofqual’s recent blog, quality assurance for GCSE, AS and A level: information for schools and colleges.

Centres should retain the work and records of marking or grading judgements as exam boards will request samples after 18th June. This will also be needed if a student wishes to appeal their result.

Please see the submission of teacher assessed grades, summer 2021: info for teachers guidance for more information.

Autumn assessment arrangements

Students who receive a teacher assessed grade this summer will be eligible to take GCSE, AS or A level exams in the same subject in autumn 2021, Ofqual confirmed yesterday.

This also applies to those students who exam boards believe would have sat exams in summer 2021 had they not been cancelled.

These decisions follow a consultation, Arrangements for GCSE, AS and A level exams in autumn 2021, an analysis of which was published yesterday after the consultation closed on 9 April.

Ofqual has also decided that:

  • exam boards will have to offer exams in all GCSE and A level subjects and AS exams in biology, chemistry, further maths, maths and physics; exam boards will be able to offer AS exams in other subjects if they wish
  • exams will be in their normal format, with no adaptations made
  • grades will be determined by a student’s performance in an exam for all subjects, except for art and design qualifications
  • AS and A level exams will be held in October, while GCSE exams will take place in November and December

Separately, Ofqual also published its decisions document on Consultation on autumn assessment opportunities for Vocational and Technical and Other General Qualifications. Ofqual has confirmed the details of the framework, which will require awarding organisations that normally provide assessment opportunities between September and January, to make those assessments available to learners who were eligible to receive a result through a teacher assessed grade if they wish to improve on it.

Where awarding organisations do not normally provide assessment opportunities between September and January, Ofqual will require them to provide those opportunities where they reasonably consider there is sufficient demand and would be manageable to both the awarding organisation and centres.

Ofqual and JCQ – updates

Ofqual has published a news story (27 April 2021) and updated the information for heads of centre, heads of department and teachers on the submission of teacher assessed grades: summer 2021 (27 April 2021) document, following confirmation of the detailed arrangements for external quality assurance.

Guidance on Exam centre responsibility for students retaking qualifications from summer 2020’(27 April 2021) has been updated to explain responsibility for entering students for exams or alternative arrangements to exams and how the cost of fees will be covered.

Ofqual blog – quality assurance arrangements (22 April 2021)

A blog published 22 April 2021 by Ofqual gives further details on the quality assurance process for awarding in summer 2021.

Ofqual – consultation on appeals

Ofqual has published a consultation (21 April 2021) on the appeals process for awarding in 2021. This is seeking views on the specific Ofqual guidance, not the underlying policy decisions (which have already been established).

Functional Skills qualifications – conditions, requirements and guidance updated 22 April 2021

Following the Secretary of State’s decision to extend the end date for continuing learners on the legacy Functional Skills qualifications until 31 July 2021, Ofqual has updated its related publications:

· Functional Skills English conditions and requirements

· Functional Skills English guidance

· Functional Skills mathematics conditions and requirements

· Functional Skills mathematics guidance

The DfE collection on Functional Skills has been similarly updated.

Ofqual – latest guidance

Yesterday Ofqual announced (24 Match 2021) it had published further guidance and documentation relating to assessment and awarding this year. This included two documents in particular that you should take note of:

There was also a range of more technical documents and further consultations, which you may wish to read but are perhaps less directly useful to schools:

Chief Regulator’s speech 22 March 2021

Simon Lebus, Interim Chief Regulator has delivered an important speech in which he talks about the "difficulty of applying teacher judgement and some of the heavy responsibility the task places on teachers who find themselves not merely preparing their students for the next step of their life journey but also for allocating the exam grades that provide a passport to it. We know that teachers feel the weight of this responsibility and are not always comfortable with some of the moral dilemmas and conflicts with which it confronts them.”

Speech by Ian Bauckham CBE, Ofqual Chair

On the subject of assessing and grading this summer, you might find it useful to read this speech by Ian Bauckham, interim Ofqual Chair. In particular it is worth noting Ian said that:

  • The choice of which evidence to use is not a matter of student-teacher negotiation; it is for the teacher to decide (in line with the forthcoming guidance & school policy).
  • While we await the exam board guidance, "there is no need either pre-emptively or retrospectively to start trying to generate evidence specifically for the purposes of grading at this point. The most important thing right now is that teachers use the all too limited time they have to teach their classes and keep the learning moving forward.

Assessment and awarding of qualifications in 2021 – update

The DfE/Ofqual published a series of documents yesterday relating to the outcome of the consultation (25 February 2021) on assessment and awarding of qualifications in 2021:

The outcome of the consultation (25 February 2021) on awarding VTQs and other general qualifications was also published yesterday including the following documents:


New guidance (26 February 2021) was published on awarding of functional skills in 2021.

Ofqual blog on GCSE autumn 2020 series

This new blog (11 February 2021) from Ofqual on the GCSE autumn 2020 exam series says the following:

  • Results from the autumn series should not be compared to a normal summer series as it is unlikely the cohort sitting these exams was representative of the summer cohort.
  • The majority of students entering these GCSEs (over 80%) took only one subject in the autumn.
  • Outcomes show relatively high achievement at the top grades – over a third of entrants achieved grade 7 and above, and just over 15% achieved grade 9.
  • It is not possible to make meaningful comparisons between results for different exam boards.
  • Just under 60% of students improved their grade compared to the summer, around 25% achieved the same grade, and just over 15% received a lower grade.

Consultation Update

On 29 January 2021 Ofqual published this blog: Consultation update and a proposal for externally-set papers.

Ofqual received over 103,000 responses across the consultations on GCSE, AS and A levels and on vocational and technical qualifications. They are analysing the responses and plan to publish next steps the week beginning 22nd February.

DfE and Ofqual consultation on awarding grades in 2021

DfE and Ofqual have launched a consultation(15 January 2021) seeking views on how to award grades in a way that reflects students’ performance accurately recognising the disruption they have faced this year. The consultation will close at 11.45pm on 29 January 2021. You can respond here. Ofqual has also launched a consultation on awarding arrangements for a range of vocational and technical qualifications(15 January 2021).

Simon Lebus, Interim Chief Regulator, has published this blog (15 January 2021) on how 2021 could look for students.

Ofqual – recruiting subject experts for T Levels (January 2021)

Ofqual is looking for subject experts to support its review of the new technical qualifications that form part of T Levels in the following subjects:

  • Finance
  • Accounting
  • Design and development for engineering and manufacturing
  • Maintenance, installation and repair for engineering and manufacturing
  • Engineering, manufacturing, processing and control
  • Management and administration

More information about what this entails can be found here.

T Levels – Capital Fund announcement

It has been announced (13 January 2021) that a £135million fund has been launched to upgrade classrooms, buildings and equipment in readiness for T-Level courses starting in 2022. T Level providers can bid via the T Level Capital fund. Where an academy delivering T Levels is part of a multi academy trust, the Trust will need to apply on behalf of the academy. More details about applications can be found in the Capital Fund Guidance. The window for applications is now open and the deadline to submit is 26th March 2021.

Support materials and advance information in 2021 GCSE, AS and A level exams – Ofqual consultation

Ofqual has launched a consultation ( 11 December 2020) . To support the consultation there is an explanatory video, PowerPoint and document.

The deadline for submission is: 11:45pm on December 20th 2020.

Ofqual – research into optionality in exams (December 2020)

Ofqual has published detailed investigation into optionality in three subjects (GCSE English literature, GCSE History and A level Sociology), as well as a summary briefing paper.

Alongside this research, Ofqual also published a news story exploring the issues of optionality and predictability and a research paper and briefing on exam question predictability.

Ofqual equalities analysis for 2020 exams – research and analysis (26 November 2020)

Ofqual has published a detailed analysis of the extent to which particular groups of children were disadvantaged by the CAG awarding process in summer 2020. Ofqual states, "Our research suggests that students were not systemically disadvantaged in 2020 on the basis of their protected characteristics or socioeconomic status.”

The study looked at CAGs, calculated-grades and final grades, making comparisons with 2018 and 2019. You can read more about it in the following:

Analysis has also been carried out regarding GCSE English language and maths entries for the November 2020 series.

Ofqual – new publications (19 November 2020)

Ofqual has published Official Statistics for:

The following documents have also been recently published:

  • 7 interactive visualisations which show summer 2020 A level and GCSE grade outcomes, centre variability and results across England. A statement can be found here.
  • Dame Glenys Stacey has written to the Secretary of State about the flexibility of approaches for assessing vocational and technical qualifications.
  • Ofqual has published statutory guidance for Condition F. This guidance supports the revised Condition F, which was introduced alongside Qualifications Wales and CCEA Regulation, and comes into effect on 18 January 2021.

In addition, the GCSE, GCE AS and A-level June 2021 Common Timetable has now been confirmed. The JCQ news release can be found here.

GCSE MFL spoken language assessment criteria and approach – Ofqual consultation outcome

Ofqual has published (5 November 2020) the outcome of their consultation on GCSE MFL assessment in 2021.

You may also be interested to read the Acting Chief Regulator, Dame Glenys Stacey’s letter to the Secretary of State.

Ofqual has published a blog on autumn exam series standard setting ‘Setting Standards in the autumn series (19 October 2020)

JCQ is consulting with stakeholders on the GCE AS, A level and GCSE Summer 2021 provisional Common Timetable until 30 October. Please find further information here. (October 2020)

Vocational and technical qualifications in 2021 – consultation outcome

Ofqual published the outcome (October 2020) of its consultation on the arrangements for assessment of vocational and technical qualifications.

Centre error appeals – additional guidance

CCEA, Ofqual and Qualifications Wales have published updated guidance (September 2020) regarding appeals for summer 2020 results. The guidance explains the awarding bodies’ expectations in relation to appeals made on the grounds of a centre error, particularly the type of evidence that would be required to support such appeals.

Contact details

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