General Qualifications Bulletin - International - Issue 7

14 April 2021

We hope you are keeping safe and are looking forward to the term ahead.

We appreciate that recently we have shared a lot of information – we are committed to making sure that you have all the support you need in order to determine student grades this summer.

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Please ensure that you have read the Grading guidance for International GCSE and International AS/A Level document (PDF, 1.4 MB), which we shared in our last bulletin.

We are providing a wide range of support documents so please make sure all your teachers and departments have accessed the support available on our Summer 2021 support page.  Also, make sure you have been onto the Pearson Professional Development Academy and have accessed the support documents there that are relevant for your role. Be sure to sign up to the live events we have coming up throughout April and May too - I know these will be really helpful.

We will continue to signpost the key information in segments throughout this bulletin. We will continue to add key dates to our evolving timeline which can be found in the 2021 Key dates and deadlines document (PDF, 0.1 MB).

As the 30 April deadline for the Centre Policy submission approaches, you can download an editable Centre Policy template for international qualifications on our dedicated Summer 2021 support page under the section 'Grading guidance for International GCSE and International AS/A levels'. Remember to make sure this accurately reflects the approach that you will be taking to derive grades this summer.

As you work through the process of determining grades this summer we are keen to hear your thoughts on what support you think may be helpful and we are committed to meeting your needs as far as we are able to do so. Please submit any suggestions or feedback by completing the Summer 2021 feedback formand we will make sure this features in our thinking over the coming weeks. 

To ensure you have the latest information, please continue to visit our dedicated support page, and follow us on Twitter (@ PearsonEdexcel) and  Facebook  to keep up to date. If you would like to speak to us directly, you can get in touch with any questions via our contact form, or by calling the relevant team for your role.   

My thanks again to you and your colleagues for the amazing work you are doing every day. 

Hayley White 
Assessment Director

You will be aware that arrangements for International GCSE and International A level in the upcoming assessment series include the optional use of unseen assessment materials. Individual countries can choose to mandate these optional elements and will communicate their decisions directly with their schools. In countries where the Ministry of Education does not choose to mandate an approach, schools can choose whether their students sit the unseen materials.  

Schools choosing to use these unseen materials also have the option of having these materials marked by Pearson examiners through the Pearson marking service.  

We would like to confirm that use of the marking service is included within the qualification entry fees confirmed in January. We know that you may have some queries about this, and please take a look at the below FAQ which may help. 

What does this mean?

We review our standard qualification entry fees every year and confirmed the fees list for the current series in January 2021. This was confirmed before exams for International GCSE and International A level were replaced with the alternative solution.  

The alternative solution for this assessment series includes a range of new and different approaches, guidance and support, developed specifically for this series. We are investing in these new and different activities to ensure a strong experience for you and your students this year.  

As part of this, we are making the marking service available to all and are keen to ensure that there are no financial barriers to accessing this service. To support this, use of the marking service is included within the qualification entry fees confirmed earlier this year. 

You must let us know if you intend to use the marking service 

If you wish to use the optional marking service, please ensure you complete the following steps in Edexcel Online: 

  1. Select GCSE or International A Level from the qualification drop down as required
  2. Select ‘International Optional Marking Service’ from the menu
  3. Select 'June 2021' and press the ‘Next’ button
  4. You will be able to see all subjects for that qualification in the list and your current entries - you can then tick the subjects you require marking or select all if applicable and click submit at the bottom of the page. 

We can confirm that the above needs to be completed by 26 April 2021, and apologise for the incorrect date communicated in an email sent yesterday.

We will start to dispatch unseen content materials to all centres from 16 April 2021 for delivery before 26 April 2021. We will track all deliveries and work with you should we see any delays in transit. For late entries, made after 21 March 2021, you will need to print from our secure download service (SDS), if you require materials to be sent via secure file transfer (SFT) please contact our customer services team on 03444 632 535. Further down this bulletin you will find advice regarding some recent changes to SFT.

Please remember that these materials are secure until the dates specified, and should be treated in the same way as any other examination materials. 

The specified dates for the use of unseen content are published on our Exam Timetables web page.

A link to the latest timeline for international and qualifications can be found in our 2021 Key dates and deadlines document (PDF, 0.1 MB) - we do continue to add dates so please do use it for your reference.  

Key dates for the next two weeks: 

  • 22 March to 22 April: Entry amendments window open for centres

  • 12 April to 26 April: Centres wishing to opt into the marking service must do so via Edexcel Online

  • 12 April to 30 April: Window open for Centre Policy submission via proforma on CAP (Centre Admin Portal)

  • 19 April to 11 June: Pearson reviews Centre Policies and conduct virtual visits

  • 26 April: Entry deadline for Private Candidates

  • 26 April: Unseen Assessment Schedule begins - detailed Unseen Assessment timetables are available on our Exams Timetables web page.

  • 4 May: Additional Assessment Support (mapping grids, grade descriptors - released under padlock)

For our international qualifications, including International A Level and International GCSE, Pearson have produced a comprehensive guidance document (PDF, 1.4 MB) on the process for deriving grades this summer.

For UK qualifications, including GCSE, AS and A levels, the Joint Council for Qualifications have released comprehensive guidance (PDF, 1.5 MB) on the process for deriving grades this  summer.

We know it’s a busy time in schools at the moment and work towards determining grades for this summer is only one of the many things taking place. So, in order to help centres work through and understand the detail of this guidance, we have pulled out ten key areas to note (PDF, 0.1 MB) from the document, which we hope will be useful.

As outlined in the Grading guidance for International GCSE and International AS/A Level (PDF, 1.4 MB) there is a recommended five step process to arrive at the grades:

  • Step 1 – Consider what has been taught
  • Step 2 – Collect the evidence from across the course of study
  • Step 3 – Evaluate the quality of evidence
  • Step 4 – Establish if the range of evidence is appropriate for all students
  • Step 5 – Assign a grade. 

You will also need to ensure that the grades represent a holistic judgement. The grading process this year is not intended to be a formulaic calculation, and should account for the context in which each student’s evidence has been produced. For tiered GCSEs and International GCSEs, your grade must reflect the tier of entry. 

Grade descriptors will be available by 4 May 2021. These must be used to make holistic judgements about student performance. Your professional experience and judgment will form a key part of this process and due consideration must be given to all the evidence collected for each student.

Please make sure all teachers have seen these.  

We know that you’re well under way with preparations and activities for grading your students. Our Pearson Professional Development Academy is now live and has detailed guidance and support in the form of checklists, video presentations, infographics and step- by-step guides to support you in determining fair grades for your students so they can progress on to their next stage. This includes: 

More detailed guidance will follow in May for Appeals. 

In addition to this, teaching support like the example in the screenshot below can now be found on the individual subject pages where relevant (with more being added in the coming days and weeks).

Please make sure that all teachers have seen this guidance.

Full details and links can be found on our Summer 2021 support page under the ‘Summer 2021 Grading Support’ section.

We are also providing live and pre-recorded support and guidance events via our Professional Development Academy, as well as running optional Q&A sessions. All our sessions will be recorded and made available. These events are now live and open for booking, and we encourage you to sign up for these.

As we’ve said previously, there will be a quality assurance process that underpins the teacher assessment grades this summer. The first stage of this is submission of the centre policy and the portal is now open and can be accessed via Edexcel Online. 

Every centre must produce a Centre Policy; this can be done by choosing to adopt the pre-populated template. An editable Centre Policy template is available under the section Grading guidance International GCSE and International AS/A Level on our COVID-19 support page. This needs to be submitted by 30 April via Edexcel Online. 

Over the next few weeks we will be making some supporting phone calls to some centres. We know there are lots of documents and pieces of information and we want to check that you have access to all the documents you need to create and submit the centre policy by the deadline, as well as making sure you have the documents to support determining grades for candidates. 

More guidance about the quality assurance process can be found in the JCQ guidance website and in the Pearson Professional Development Academy, including a checklist to make sure everything is covered.

The arrangements for awarding grades to students in summer 2021 include internal and external quality assurance measures which aim to ensure that on results day student are issued with fair and consistent grades that have been objectively reached. Sharing information with students about the evidence being used as part of a centre’s grade determination process is important and should help to avoid issues that may otherwise arise when results are issued.   

Students will be able to appeal their grade. A student who is unhappy with their grade will first ask their centre to check whether an administrative or procedural error had been made. 
  
Where a centre does identify an error in the grade submitted to the exam board, it can submit a revised grade and a rationale for the board to consider. If the exam board is satisfied with the rationale, it will issue a revised grade.  
 
Where a centre does not believe an error had been made, a student can ask the centre to appeal to the exam board on their behalf. The centre will submit the student’s appeal to the exam board and provide the evidence on which its judgement had been made; the exam board will consider whether, in its view, the grade reflected a reasonable exercise of academic judgement – both in terms of the evidence selected, and the overall grade awarded.  
 
If the exam board judges that it did not, the exam board will determine the grade that the evidence would support, or will refer the case back to the centre to take further action. The exam board will also check that the centre had followed its own process.

JCQ released a document entitled Guidance for students, parents and guardians: GCSEs and AS/A levels in England Summer 2021 (PDF, 1.0 MB) that provides an overview of the most important information that students, parents and carers need to know about how grades will be awarded this summer. We recommend you share this with your students, parents and carers. 

We’ve added this information to our Support for students, parents and carers web page, where you can also find:

  • video from our Assessment Director, Hayley White, that explains how grades will be determined this year
  • feedback form so students, parents and carers can provide get in touch to give us feedback or suggest any further support materials they may find useful.   

Please do share this information with your students and encourage parents and carers to take a look.

Our updated BTEC Q-TAG guidance can be found in the Awarding Results in 2021 document (PDF, 1.6 MB).

In addition, if you’d like to find out the latest information and support for our vocational qualifications, please take a look at our BTEC International Bulletin Archive.

International AS/A level

International GCSE

Hard copy attendance registers will be despatched week commencing 12 April.  

Please only return attendance registers with question papers where you require our marking service for Unseen Content Assessment. 

Exam Stationery 

We will not be providing our usual stationery such as bags for returning scripts, if you would like to use the marking service and require returns bags, these can be ordered by completing our additional stationery request form.

Modified Formats 

We will be providing modified unseen content to support students this May/June. If you submitted a modified order before 21 March for large print or interactive materials. pdf formats will be available via our secure download service (SDS). Tactile and braille assessments will be dispatched from 9 April. 

Changes to Secure File Transfer (SFT) 

If you use our SFT system to download electronic copies of question papers, please note the following changes to the system are now in effect:

  1. Minimum password length increased from 7 to 8 characters
  2. Passwords set to expire after 60 days
  3. Session timeout reduced to 15 minutes
  4. Users unable to re-use previous 24 passwords 

These changes will apply to any new users immediately. If you already use SFT, you will receive a notification if your password is going to expire.

Due to the cancellation of exams last summer, we have a number of unused packs of question papers left in stock which may be of use to you. In the interests of both sustainability as well as saving you time printing your own copies, we are making these papers available for all centres. 

You will be able to order papers via a new portal that will be live from 19 April, where they will be available on a first come first served basis until they are exhausted. 

Subject to availability, question papers can be ordered in denominations of 5, 10 or 20. There will be a small charge to cover the administration and courier costs per order. Charges will be calculated at a rate of 20p per paper for orders up to £40 and then at a rate of 10p per paper for orders over £40.

Question papers will be available for the following series: 

  • General qualifications (including GCSE, International GCSE, AS and A level, International A level) for October 2020, November 2020 and January 2021. 

Further information with details about how to access the past papers website and how to create an account will be communicated to all centres on Friday 16 April. 

Please submit any suggestions or feedback you may have about determining grades by completing the Summer 2021 feedback form, and we will make sure this features in our thinking over the coming weeks.

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