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A Level 2021: What you need to know

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Students will be able to apply to colleges and universities as usual, based on their predicted grades. Source: Ed Jones/AFP

The cancellation of A Level exams in England is bringing back the turmoil surrounding the awarding of grades in 2020. With the UK government declaring in early January that A Level and GCSE exams won’t be conducted in 2021, students and their parents will certainly be reflecting on the issues that arose last year and wondering how this would affect their education and future.

Following the cancellation of exams in England in March 2020, it was discovered that an algorithm designed to moderate data submitted by schools had resulted in large reductions in final results for many thousands of students. This fiasco caused a public trust issue in England’s national testing systems.

Within days of the results being revealed, Gavin Williamson, the Secretary of State for Education, determined that students should be given centre evaluated grades, which are forecasts based on evidence from teachers.

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A Level exams will mostly proceed where national and regional authorities permit. Kim Hong-Ji / AFP

For 2021, the government has proposed that students’ grades were to be based on their portfolio. “We propose that the student’s portfolio – whether or not it is complete at the time of the assessment – should be the sole evidence teachers use to decide on the grade the student should be awarded,” it said.

The proposed plans set out a suggested timeline for when results would be decided and when students would receive them as follows:

  • Teachers will assess students beginning in May and ending in early June
  • Teachers will submit grades to exam boards by mid-June
  • Exam boards will perform “quality assurance” checks on the submitted grades throughout June
  • Students will be issued with their grades “most likely in early July”

Students will be able to apply to colleges and universities as usual, based on their predicted grades. In the same way that exam scores are used to determine whether they get to accept any of the spaces offered to them, their teachers’ grades will be used to determine whether they get to accept any of the places offered to them.

However, if students are predicted to earn poorer grades than they would have achieved normally due to the impact of the pandemic, this could be an issue. As the pandemic has disrupted learning and mental wellbeing, many pupils are likely to do poorly, which could put them at a disadvantage in terms of what offers they receive. 

If you’re taking A Level elsewhere, here’s what you need to know:

Cambridge International school exams 

Cambridge will conduct their June 2021 exam series in all countries as planned. It will only take place where national or regional authorities have granted permission. Cambridge will move from exams to a teacher evaluation methodology in nations or regions where exams are not offered. All schools in those countries or regions will use this method. Visit the Cambridge website for more info and details. 

Pearson Edexcel international school exams 

Pearson Edexcel’s International GCSE and International AS/A Level exams will not be offered in the May/June 2021 series. Teachers will award grades with support throughout from Pearson. 

OxfordAQA international school exams 

The OxfordAQA International GCSE and International AS/A Level exams will not be offered in the May/June 2021 series. Students will be assessed on what they’ve been taught and teachers will determine student grades.