GCSE and A level exams How were exams handled in 2020?
This page was updated on 6th January 2021.
Introduction and background
GCSE and A level results this year have been extraordinary to say the least. With the coronavirus pandemic forcing the cancellation of the Summer 2020 exams, a new assessment model was put in place. This was based on centre assessment grades (CAGs) produced by teachers and moderated nationally through an Ofqual produced algorithm, which then had to be swiftly withdrawn in a major government U-turn to allow students to be awarded their original centre assessment grade. In our 57 year history as an education provider, we can safely say that we had never experienced anything like it before.
While the attention around the grade moderation fiasco centred on the disproportionate downgrading of state schools compared to independent schools, thousands of private candidates faced their own set of unique disadvantages. Many private candidates, including second-chance learners and home-educated children, were unable to be entered for a centre assessment grade (CAG) at all because they were not registered with an exam centre.
As NEC is a registered exam centre, our students, who had submitted enough work to be assessed, received a CAG based on assessment by their tutor. For those who were not eligible, we were in the position to defer their entry to the autumn sitting and have proceeded to aide those students with the booking process.
We found, as did many other schools and colleges, that the Ofqual moderation process for A levels had seriously disadvantaged some NEC students, with some dropping as many as three or four grades. Up until the government U-turn and switch to CAGs we had been engaging with the exam boards and working tirelessly to appeal grades on behalf of these students.
We have worked extremely hard to work towards the best outcomes for our students, including submitting centre assessment grades, dealing with individual students' cases and keeping students and their parents as up-to-date as possible during unprecedented times.
Below is a timeline of the exams situation as it unfolded, as well as information on the autumn exam session.
19th March - NEC publishes statement on Covid-19
The NEC team transitions to working from home and maintains continuity for students and staff. Read our full statement here.
20th March - Exams cancelled
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson announces the cancellation of the summer 2020 exams. The government, alongside Ofqual, the exam boards, and education providers work together to support students and develop a solution. This is a new situation for everyone as it moves many elements of assessment from the awarding bodies to the schools and colleges.
20th March - NEC establishes contact with Ofqual and awarding bodies
NEC, with its long history of campaigning for private candidates, establishes contact with Ofqual and the awarding bodies to ensure private candidates are considered during deliberations over 2020 exams.
23rd March - Lockdown starts
Prime Minister Boris Johnson announces the stay at home policy, encouraging the population to only leave their homes for very limited reasons.
5th May - Ofqual announces initial results of consultation of GCSE and A level grades
Ofqual releases information on how GCSEs, AS levels, A levels and vocational qualifications would be awarded providing guidance on centre assessment grades (CAG).
6th May - NEC begins working with tutors to establish the best road forward with CAGs
NEC works tirelessly with tutors to establish a process for providing centre assessment grades for eligible students.
22nd May - Ofqual proposes autumn exam session
Ofqual releases more information on how centre assessment grades should be awarded and proposes introducing an autumn exam series.
30th June - Autumn exam session is confirmed
Ofqual announces the confirmation of the autumn exam session and expands its guidance for grade appeals.
12th August - Government maintain position on centre assessment grades and moderation
Following criticism of the way the Scottish government handled their exam results roll out, the Department for Education and Ofqual assert that the moderated centre assessment grades will go ahead as planned.
13th August - A level results day
A level and AS level results are released. Around 40% of the grades released are lower than those submitted by teachers due to the moderation process.
20th August - GCSE results day
GCSE results are released to students.
Read an overview of NEC's A level and GCSE results here.
4th September - Deadline for AS and A level autumn exam entries
18th September - Deadline for GCSE autumn exam entries
Except for GCSE English Language and GCSE Maths.
4th October - Deadline for GCSE English Language and GCSE Maths autumn exam entries
Combined with the challenging circumstances many NEC students already face, the achievements of our students are outstanding and testament to their hard work, determination and strength in the face of adversity. Many of our students have plans to go on to further and higher education and we wish them all the best of luck.
Click on the slides below to read more.
Autumn 2020 exams
As previously announced in England only there will be a full series of GCE A, AS and GCSE in all subjects available in autumn 2020.
The timetable will run as follows:
GCE AS and A-level examinations start on Monday 5 October and finish on Friday 23 October.
GCSE examinations start on Monday 2 November and finish on Monday 23 November.
These are just a few of the questions that we are receiving from our students. This will be updated as further information becomes available.
A level results from the autumn session will be released 17th December 2020.
Results for GCSE English Language and Maths will be 14th January 2021.
All other GCSE results will be released 11th February 2021.
If you were entered for exams this summer and decided to defer your exams, or if you were unable to receive a centre assessment grade (CAG), you were eligible to enter for exams in the autumn. In addition, those who received their grade this summer and wanted to try to improve on this were able to enter.
If you take exams in the autumn or in summer 2021 and achieve a different grade from the grade you received this summer, you will be able to use the higher of the grades to show to universities, colleges and employers in future.
Yes. As previously explained in earlier documentation, any examination fees previously paid would have been used to generate and submit the centre assessment grade. Fees are on the application form.
What if the 2021 GCSE and A level exams are cancelled?
The cancellation of the exams this summer (2020) was unprecedented and presented a new situation for everyone. NEC immediately consulted with Ofqual and the awarding bodies and set up the procedures and processes to enable us to assess eligible students for centre assessment grades (CAGs); NEC was able to do this because we are an exam centre and have qualified tutors, many of whom are also examiners for the awarding bodies.
The planning for the 2021 exams assumes that they will be administered in the normal way with students sitting their papers in an exam centre. However the development of the Covid 19 virus is unpredictable and if there is a decision to replace the exams with CAGs, NEC will be fully prepared and ready to implement this. There may also be an Ofqual or government announcement in October, moving the dates of the summer 2021 exams so we will update this page as soon as more information is available.
Students to be given more time to prepare for 2021 exams (published 12th October 2020): https://www.gov.uk/government/news/students-to-be-given-more-time-to-prepare-for-2021-exams
Ofqual welcomes DfE announcement on 2021 exams (published 12th October 2020): https://www.gov.uk/government/news/ofqual-welcomes-dfe-announcement-on-2021-exams
What if CAGs happen again?
Should centre assessed grades be implemented again, our advice is to ensure you are in the best possible position to be able to be assessed by setting yourself a time table and submitting assignments regularly throughout your course. This advice will work just as well for the exams as for CAGs so you will be prepared whatever happens.
Our GCSE and A level courses are structured with carefully designed tutor-marked assignments which prepare students well for the exams or for CAGs should they happen again. This means that your tutor will have an academic understanding of your work and will be able to submit a grade for you should this situation arise.
NEC was in the unique position to provide centre-assessment grades because we are an approved exam centre. Providing the student had engaged with their course and consistently submitted assignments, our tutors were able to provide the CAGs. Many private candidates were unable to be assessed for CAGs because they were not affiliated with a centre that was in a position to authenticate and mark their work.
In addition to exams, a number of GCSE and A level subjects also have non examination assessment (NEA). This can include coursework, speaking and listening tests, language orals and science practical endorsements. NEC is also approved to authenticate and administer NEA.
NEC has a long tradition of campaigning to widen access for adult students, home educators and private candidates. This summer we have been calling for universities to be flexible in their approach to the September intake and we will continue to fight for the best outcomes for our students and for all private candidates. More information can be found here.
We want to personally reassure you that we are doing all we can to ensure a seamless experience during this difficult period. We would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your continued support and to thank all of our colleagues who are working incredibly hard to serve our students with the high standards of service you expect from us.
NEC is also working closely with both Ofqual and the awarding bodies. We have excellent relationships with these organisations and with our partnership exam centres and will work with them to enable us to provide centre assessed grades where possible. Although every attempt will be made to operate a fair and open system, we appreciate it will not work perfectly for everyone but we hope that universities and other providers will be sympathetic and make adjustments where possible for anyone who considers they have been disadvantaged.
What's next after 2020 exams?
Resitting A levels, retaking GCSEs, heading to university, following your desired career path...
Whether you achieved the grade you expected in the 2020 exams, there are still a wide range of options available to you. Our new 'What's next' page could help you on the next step of your journey. Find out more here.
Definition of terms
“Centre assessment grades” or calculated grades means the suggested grade that we will submit to the exam boards, and is subject to confirmation. The terms predicted grades or calculated grades are also used but we prefer the term “centre assessment grades” for consistency and to avoid confusion with the predicted grades sent to universities and UCAS for higher education applications as they are different (see below).
“Non-examination assessments” or “NEAs” is a term used to refer to coursework or an endorsement on some NEC GCSE and A level courses. This includes coursework, practical science endorsements and spoken language endorsements. More information about NEAs at the National Extension College can be found here: https://www.nec.ac.uk/non-examination-assessment/
“Predicted grades” are a key part of the UCAS application process. They reflect the grade of qualification that your tutor believes you are likely to achieve in positive circumstances, which is then used by universities and colleges as an indicator of your academic ability and suitability for higher education. NEC can only provide you with predicted grades for the course or courses you study with us once you have completed 50% of your course assignments, not including your introductory assignment. More information about predicted grades can be found here: https://www.nec.ac.uk/additional-services/
“Private candidates” or independent candidates are the terms used for all students who are not being entered for the exams through a school or college. All students enrolled with NEC come into the category of private candidates. These may also be referred to as external candidates.
“Tutor marked assignments” or “TMAs” are the assignments within your course which under normal circumstances would not be examinable. On a National Extension College GCSE or A level course, there are usually ten assignments that you can submit to your tutor for marking.
The awarding bodies are working with education providers and Ofqual to provide viable solutions during this unprecedented time. Here are some useful resources where you can learn more about the centre assessed grading process.
- JCQ - Supplementary information on validation of evidence by centres for private candidates - http://www.jcq.org.uk/media-centre/news-releases/jcq-publishes-supplementary-information-on-validation-of-evidence
- Ofqual - Guidance on awarding qualifications in summer 2020 - https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/897425/Summer_2020_grades_for_GCSE__AS_and_A_level__Extended_Project_Qualification_and_Advanced_Extension_Award_in_maths_020720.pdf
- Ofqual information video - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fRTyGmUJIrw
- JCQ announcement of autumn exam dates - https://www.jcq.org.uk/jcq-announces-examination-dates-for-the-autumn-2020-series/?fbclid=IwAR0JUKjdom4_ujlskqm9FwT9W-HN5kYmUybA5Icd__AJ6v-v65DECDRzXzc
- Ofqual Student guide to post-19 qualifications results - Summer 2020 -https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/903884/Student_Guide_Summer_2020_20200727_1035_-_access.pdf
- Department for Education - Arrangements for autumn series of GCSE, A level and AS level exams in 2020 - https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-cancellation-of-gcses-as-and-a-levels-in-2020/coronavirus-covid-19-cancellation-of-gcses-as-and-a-levels-in-2020#arrangements-for-autumn-series-of-gcse-a-and-as-level-exams-in-2020
- Students given more time to prepare for 2021 exams - https://www.gov.uk/government/news/students-to-be-given-more-time-to-prepare-for-2021-exams
- Ofqual welcomes DfE announcement on 2021 exams - https://www.gov.uk/government/news/ofqual-welcomes-dfe-announcement-on-2021-exams