Teacher GCSE concerns...File photo dated 02/03/12 of Maths exam in progress at Pittville High School, Cheltenham, as England's teachers have lost confidence in GCSEs amid major concerns about marking, grading and standards, a report by the exams regulator Ofqual has found.
Students who are unhappy with their assessed grades will have the option to appeal and sit their exams when schools reopen © David Davies/PA

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Students in England due to take exams this summer will be given grades based on assessments made by teachers following the cancellation of GCSEs, AS- and A-levels because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Schools across the UK closed on Friday for the foreseeable future, with limited places kept open only for children of “key workers” who have been deemed essential by the government to help fight the rapid spread of the disease. 

Ofqual, the exam regulator, announced it was collaborating with schools and teachers to develop a formula to calculate grades for each student “which reflects their performance as fairly as possible”. The metrics will be applied consistently across all schools.

Mock exams, past attainment and non-exam assessments will be used to produce calculated grades. The Department for Education said teachers would be asked to make judgments on individual students and what grade they were likely to have attained if their exams had taken place.

The government said the assessments would be “indistinguishable” from normal exam results. Grades will be distributed in a similar pattern to previous years to ensure students do not have a “systematic disadvantage as a consequence of these extraordinary circumstances”.

The government said it was aiming to provide these calculated grades to students before the end of July. 

Students who are unhappy with their assessed grades will have the option to appeal and sit their exams when schools reopen. There will also be the option to take exams in the summer of 2021. 

Education secretary Gavin Williamson said cancelling this summer’s exam season was “vital but unprecedented” to thwart the spread of the virus. 

“I have asked exam boards to work closely with the teachers who know their pupils best to ensure their hard work and dedication is rewarded and fairly recognised,” Mr Williamson said. 

“My priority now is to ensure no young person faces a barrier when it comes to moving on to the next stage of their lives — whether that’s further or higher education, an apprenticeship or a job.” 

The move marks a temporary reversal of education reforms in recent years to focus on final knowledge-based exams and move away from continual assessment and judgment from teachers. 

It raises concerns over any subjective judgments by teachers, and a longstanding issue that predicted grades often underestimate final results, notably for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. 

Peter Lampl, chairman of the Sutton Trust, a social mobility charity, cautioned that predicted grades were “inaccurate in the vast majority of cases”, especially for disadvantaged, high-attaining poorer students.

“Coursework has declined as a result of recent A-level reforms and so there will not be as much information available from this as in previous years. While all teachers want the best for their students, teacher assessments can unconsciously disadvantage those from poorer backgrounds,” he said.

But Nansi Ellis, assistant general secretary of the National Education Union, said teachers assessments were valid and reliable. “Teachers are trained to assess their students and already do so throughout the year,” she said.

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