General Qualifications Bulletin - UK - Issue 6 | Pearson qualifications

General Qualifications Bulletin - UK - Issue 6

31 March 2021

I hope you are keeping safe and well as you head for or have arrived at the end of the term.

I know it continues to be busy in schools and colleges and that determining grades is only one of the many things taking place. The last few days have seen some big announcements and some key documents released that relate to the process for this summer. 

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It is important that you read the JCQ Guidance on the Determination of Grades for A/AS Levels and GCSEs this summer. We hope to break this down into some manageable segments throughout this newsletter and through some of the key documents and support materials available on this site and through the Pearson Professional Development Academy over the coming weeks.

Today we have released the additional assessment materials via the subject qualification pages on our website. You can find quick access links to these via our 2021 support page.

We will be releasing further support and exemplification over the next few weeks. By 19 April all the materials for determining grades this summer will be released and we will continue to let you know as and when they become available.

As you work through the process of determining grades this summer we are keen to hear your thoughts on what extra 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 and 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) 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

The Joint Council for Qualifications have released comprehensive guidance on the process for deriving grades this summer (PDF, 1.5 MB). This guidance, along with our support, will be an important document as centres work to determine grades for UK qualifications in summer 2021. More will follow shortly for international qualification guidance.

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, to help centres work through and understand the detail of this guidance, we have pulled out the ten key areas to note from the document (PDF, 0.1 MB), which we hope will be useful.

There are also a wide range of helpful downloadable materials that we recommend looking at including: 

  • guidance for students and parents 
  • centre policy 
  • A/AS level grade descriptors 
  • GCSE grade descriptors 
  • Head of Department checklist 
  • retention of evidence 
  • interim guidance for private candidate centres. 

We know that you’re already doing a tremendous job and are keen to start work on preparing for grading your students. Our Pearson Professional Development Academy is now live and will host detailed guidance and support in the form of 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 will include: 

  • how to reach grading decisions
  • the creation of assessment materials
  • the quality assurance process and appeals
  • general support around timelines and submission systems.  

n addition to this, subject support guides can now be found on the individual qualification pages. Full details and links can be found on our summer 2021 support page.

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

As we’ve previously let you know, there will be a quality assurance process that underpins the teacher assessment grades this summer.  

Every centre must produce a Centre Policy; this can be done by choosing to adopt the pre-populated template that is available via the JCQ website

There will be internal and external quality assurance. The external quality assurance will be a 3-stage process:   

  • Stage 1 – Centre policy review
  • Stage 2 – Virtual centre visit
  • Stage 3 – Post-submission sampling.

It is important that grades represent a holistic, objective judgement based on evidence of each student’s performance in each subject. 

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

As outlined in the JCQ guidance document, 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, your grade must reflect the tier of entry.

Grade descriptors and grading exemplification 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.

Used appropriately, data on historical student and centre performance can help support the internal quality assurance process for assigning grades. The purpose of reviewing data on past performance is not to attempt to determine a student or a centre’s outcomes this summer, but as one source of evidence from examination series which operated as normal, that can inform teachers’ professional judgement on the level of attainment achieved by their students.

You should be aware of the distribution of grades awarded to students in previous June series where exams have taken place. However, grading judgements should not be driven by this data. Historical grade data should only be considered after grading judgements have been made. 

As you will have seen in the last bulletin, we shared some information about the additional assessment materials and today, we’re pleased to confirm that our Additional Assessment Materials have been published for all GCSE and A level subjects (with the exception of Art and Design). These materials will be available in the subject pages under ‘Summer 2021 assessment materials for centres’.

As confirmed previously, we will be providing teachers with a package of support materials including training, guidance and support to use as tools to help them assess their students this summer. The additional assessment materials have been drawn from past paper content, from both published and unpublished material. A reminder of what this means below: 

  • ‘Published’ - those materials publicly available on the Pearson website and
  • ‘Unpublished’ - those materials still under padlock to our centres (mainly papers from 2019/2020).
  • In most cases, question paper coverage is such that it allows us to draw upon our past paper content, without the need to supplement with new content.  

What does the support material look like?   

  • In most cases, the Additional Assessment Materials will be content organised to allow teachers the freedom to select and assess the content that they have taught their students.
  • The content could be organised by topic, theme, skills or demand, depending on how the qualification is devised and this should mean that teachers will have a flexible approach to assessing their students.
  • In order to use the organised content, teachers will be provided with a mapping grid that will include details on where this content has been drawn from, as well as information like which assessment objectives the question meets.
  • As suggested by the Secretary of State a proportion of this content will be drawn from unpublished materials (namely 2019/2020 papers).
  • In addition to the mapping grid, teachers will be provided with the questions organised by topic, theme, skills or demand which they can then use to assess their students. The mark schemes for these questions will also be provided to teachers.
  • We are also providing an accompanying document that will act as a one stop shop for teachers and will help in navigating the additional assessment materials as well as any the supports materials that are provided such as, modified paper information, past papers, examiner reports. 

What about modified papers?   

  • To support accessibility, modified paper information will be shared, so that teachers can select modified items to assess their students. We will indicate on the mapping grids (some may have separate mapping grids) where modified materials have been created. 

  • Wherever possible centres should utilise existing modified past papers, but where this is not appropriate, we will provide support and work with you to find alternative solutions to meet the needs of your students including the production of further modified versions, including for enlarged format or braille.  

When will these be released to teachers? 

  • The first phase of publication is the Additional Assessment Materials (mapping grids, sets/groups of questions and the mark schemes) which have been published today (31 March 2021). 

  • The second phase of materials release will be support and guidance material, which would focus on aspects such as marking exemplification will come after Easter around 12 April 2021 

  • The final phase of materials release will be grading exemplification on 19 April. 

Is the use of the additional assessment materials compulsory? 

The use of additional assessment materials in assessing your students is optional. As stated in the Ofqual Consultation outcome 'It would therefore be potentially unfair to enforce compulsory use of these materials'.

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. 

As you know the Department for Education and Ofqual have confirmed arrangements for how this year’s GCSE, AS and A level results will be graded and issued to students. We want to ensure fairness for all students taking our qualifications and to ensure parity between the approach taken for GCSE and A level with some of our other qualifications.

Therefore, for the following qualifications we will align to the same evidence-based approach that we are using for GCSE and A level qualifications: 

  • Edexcel Awards in Mathematics 
  • Edexcel Advanced Extension Award in Mathematics 
  • Mathematics in Context (Level 3 Core Maths) 
  • Entry Level Certificate (English, Mathematics, Physical Education, Science). 

Student grades will be derived by teachers and centres with support throughout from Pearson. With our support it will be possible to use a variety of evidence, appropriate for the qualification being delivered, to inform the grade which will be submitted to Pearson.

We're now working through the detail of these arrangements to understand what they mean for schools, colleges, teachers and students. We will keep you informed of new guidance and information when these details have been confirmed. To ensure that you have the latest information please continue to visit our dedicated support page.   

We’ve been listening to feedback from students, parents and carers and we know they are keen to be kept informed about the assessment process this year and any additional support that we’ll be producing to help navigate the coming months.

As you will know, last Friday JCQ released guidance on how grades will be derived this summer. They also 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’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 

  • student-friendly timeline (PDF, 0.1 MB) that provides details and key dates for the awarding of GCSE, AS and A levels this summer 

  • 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. 

JCQ has issued interim guidance for private candidate centres offering GCSEs, AS and A levels, outlining those elements of the assessment process that are particularly relevant for private candidates. The guidance can be found on the JCQ website (PDF, 0.2 MB).  

JCQ is also contacting centres this week to give them the opportunity to be included in a list of centres who are happy to take additional private candidate entries, so that we can support private candidates to find a suitable centre. This list will be available at the end of March and will cover GCSE, AS and A levels. To make sure that private candidates have sufficient time to make entries, we will be waiving late fees for private candidates up to 26 April. 

DfE has issued details of its private candidate support grant, which will provide £200 for eligible centres in England accepting private candidate entries for GCSEs, AS and A levels to cover the additional costs of assessment this summer. This will ensure that private candidates who are eligible for the scheme do not need to pay more for their entry this year than they would in a normal year. 

The latest timeline for UK qualifications can be found in this document (PDF, 0.1 MB) - we do continue to add dates so please do use it for your reference.  

In the last bulletin we outlined that the joint Ofqual and DfE consultation outcome confirms that for GCSE English Language, GCSE Modern Foreign Languages and A level sciences (Biology, Chemistry, Physics), centres should determine and submit a separate grade or result for the endorsement. This result or grade should be based on work that has been completed towards the endorsement.

It has since been agreed by the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) and all exam boards, that the deadline for submitting the endorsement grade or result will be extended until 18 June 2021 in line with the submission deadline for teacher assessment grades.

We will be aligning our approach to endorsements for our international qualifications, and so the deadline of 18 June 2021 also applies to the endorsements for our International GCSEs.

We are finalising subject specific guidance on endorsements and will be sharing this with you in early April. 

Following the summer and November series, we are offering a service for students to receive a single, combined certificate showing the higher of the two results for each subject.

Students are only eligible to receive a combined certificate if both sets of results were achieved at the same centre. Please be advised that we cannot remove subjects from the combined certificate that were sat across these two sessions. This service can be requested by students or examinations officers on our Certificate services page

The updated guidance on awarding results in 2021 can be found on this page. Here you’ll find videos of briefings and Q&A sessions with additional detail, alongside the guidance.

In addition, if you’d like to find out the latest information and support for our vocational qualifications, please take a look at our support page where you can find news and updates, with links to our regular VQ Bulletin which contains all the key updates you need for our vocational qualifications.  

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’re making these papers available for all centres. 

You'll be able to order papers via a new portal that will be live from 19 April. We will share this with you in our next bulletin in two weeks’ time. Papers 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) for October 2020, November 2020 and International GCSE for January 2021. 

Further information about the subjects that will be included, details about how to access the past papers website and how to create an account will be communicated prior to the website going live. 

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