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Invigilator in exam hall | The Good Schools Guide11 August 2020

As Covid-19 rumbles on, this week’s spotlight falls on students who should have taken either GCSEs or A levels earlier in the summer. The class of 2020 will go down in history as the cohort either (depending on how you look at it ) from whom the opportunity to prove themselves on exam day was snatched – or alternatively who side stepped onerous exams and got the chance to learn to cook, perfect their golf swing / gaming technique and spend the post lockdown part of summer care-free, hanging out with their friends. 

The ongoing situation has been compounded in the last week by the government’s ever-evolving position on A level and GCSE grades. For the class of 2020, unable to take public exams because of the schools’ shutdown, there has been consternation at the prospect of receiving grades which were not an accurate reflection of their ability. The computer modelling which had been relied on by the Government to provide every student with a fair grade has, in the case of A level students, failed to do so and, as a result, the Department for Education has spent much of the last week looking for a way to rectify this problem.

The Good Schools Guide answers some common questions arising from the latest changes here:

What is the latest on A level and GCSE grades?

The latest decision from the Education Secretary is that students will now be given the grades that were estimated by their own teachers (otherwise known as Centre Assessed Grades or CAGs) instead of the grades provided by the computer algorithm. However, a student will be given the algorithm-calculated grade if it is higher than the CAG. This is likely to be good news for the majority of GCSE students when results are published.

What do I have to do?

This reversion to the Centre Assessed Grades should all happen automatically. A level (and AS level) students will be reissued their results and GCSE students will pick up their new results on 20 August 2020 as if nothing out of the ordinary has happened.

What about appealing my Centre Assessed Grade?

For many students, mock exam results have contributed to their Centre Assessed Grade. It is not clear whether you will be able to appeal your CAG or algorithm grade using your mock result. This is still to be confirmed by the Department for Education. Ofqual formerly stated that grades and ranks assigned by the school cannot be appealed.

Will I be able to go to my first-choice university?

With the reversion to CAGs, many students will now have the required grades for their first-choice university. When this is the case, students should make contact with the university. If the offer of a place (either for this year or deferred) based on your new grades is reinstated, you need to decide whether to accept. If you have already accepted a place at another university, you will be able to release yourself - just get in touch with them to let them know. Not surprisingly, this may create a logistical nightmare for universities with the potential for increased numbers of students on certain courses and a shortage of accommodation. Our advice to students is to push hard for what you want. The majority of Oxbridge colleges have now said that they will honour their original offers subject to the student achieving the necessary grades and our expectation is that most other universities will follow suit. This should create a cascade effect resulting in many students being able to accept their first choices

Can I still sit the proper exam?

There will still be the option to sit the proper exam for students who are unhappy with their CAG and algorithm-calculated grade. The exams will run for much of October and the deadline for entries is 4 September. Results day for A levels is 17 December and GCSEs is in early 2021. If the grade given for these exams does not meet expectations, students will still be able to use their CAG or algorithm grade. We advise you, however, to ask yourself whether resits are really worth it. For GCSE students, in most cases – excepting English and maths grades below a 4 – we think not. When you’ve been away from school for six months and now have new courses and academic targets to focus on, make sure you want to take the exams for the right reasons. Our advice to students moving into year 12 is not to distract yourself from future A level success.

In addition, Melanie Sanderson, managing editor of The Good Schools Guide had the following words of advice: ‘The mess that we’re in regarding A level and GCSE grades is not going to magically disappear. It will take weeks, if not months, for the issues with university places to be resolved and even then, many will not be satisfied. Our advice to students and their parents is not to leave anything to chance and to be your own advocate. Charge your phone battery and be prepared to be put on hold. Make sure you are checking that everything the government has said will happen is actually happening; make sure you have been awarded your highest grade (whether that is from the CAG or the algorithm); chase up university or sixth form offers and double check your name is on the list and that you have officially accepted (or turned-down) an offer of a place. 

'The situation has arisen because the systems in place have failed. Working on the basis of the catalogue of errors so far, there may be more mistakes or errors of judgement to follow in the coming days so be prepared to fight your corner.’

*This article was updated on 18 August 2020 to reflect the government’s announcement that students would receive their Centre Assessed Grade as their final result.

Want exam results advice from The Good Schools Guide’s Education Consultants?

Our team of education experts are well acquainted with helping families deal with the emotional strain and upheaval caused by disappointing exam results. If you would like to speak with us about your options regarding the move into sixth form, appeals, exam retakes, university entrance and any other associated issue, call us on: 0800 368 7694 (UK) or +44 203 286 6824 from overseas or email: [email protected]

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