Ofqual unveils subject exam changes for 2021

2020-08-21

Exams regulator Ofqual has unveiled changes to how certain subjects will be examined in the next academic year, as part of efforts to ensure that pupils are not disadvantaged by global events.


The body has completed a consultation to address proposed changes to how GCSEs, AS and A Levels would be assessed in 2021, in the wake of disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic.


Now it has been decided that schools will be offered a greater choice of topics in some subjects, including in history, ancient history and GCSE English literature.


However, at this stage, a decision on whether to delay exams in 2021 until later in the summer has not been made, with Ofqual saying more analysis is needed first.


The key changes at a glance

The consultation decisions document reveals that the Department for Education will allow greater choice in some subjects, but that it is discouraged in others as it could “further disadvantage” students whose education has already been negatively impacted by the pandemic.


In an effort to maintain public health, the need for pupils to complete a set number of days of fieldwork in geography will also not be necessary at GCSE level, although an A Level geography student will still need to complete a form of non-exam assessment.


Similar changes to fieldwork will be seen in geology and environmental science, while greater flexibility will exist around how the practical elements of the sciences are assessed.


Ofqual has emphasised that exam boards will need to be flexible and that as much fieldwork should be carried out as possible, even if that includes via remote or virtual means.


The timing of exams

The exams regulator is yet to decide on alternations to the exam timetable for 2021, although it did ask for exam boards to consider how more time could be provided for teaching as part of the consultation process.


One particular question focused on whether exams could begin after the half-term holiday in early June 2021, although Ofqual said a “number of risks and issues were highlighted in the responses”.


This included concerns over whether it would be possible to publish results in time, with the consultation outlining that potential exam timetable changes will not be for Ofqual alone to decide.


“We will work with the Department for Education, the exam boards, colleagues in Wales and Northern Ireland, and higher education, to undertake further analysis of the options, the risks and the mitigations, before taking a decision,” the exam regulator said.


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