Everything you need to know about A-Level results in a year with no exams

13 August 2020, 06:10

A-level and vocational results are arriving for hundreds of thousands of students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland
A-level and vocational results are arriving for hundreds of thousands of students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Picture: PA
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

With A-Level results day looming many people have asked how are exam results worked out? And what caused the situation with tests being cancelled in the first place?

The coronavirus pandemic and the associated lockdown has left the Government with huge problems and one question they have faced is what to do with A-level and GCSE students in a year when exams have been cancelled?

Boris Johnson's Government has announced a solution for pupils in England, but not everybody is happy with it. And each of the regional devolved Governments have also come up with their own answer to the question.

On Thursday morning students will be waking up to their A-level results amid last-minute changes to appeals, with around one in four entries expected to be awarded the top grades.

But what was the problem, why didn't students sit exams? And how will pupils receive results for exams they haven't sat?

Here's everything you need to know about A-Level results day.

Read more: A-Level students share their concerns after last minute change to exam grading

What was the problem?

The coronavirus pandemic forced sustained school closures across the UK during the back end of the spring term and the majority of the summer term.

It has meant pupils have been unable to sit GCSE or A-level exams, crucial in deciding how best to continue their education, where to look for work or training, or which college or university course to apply to.

Education is a devolved issue - what is the current state of play across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland?

The picture is a mosaic of approaches, with U-turns announced virtually on the eve of students getting results.

The coronavirus pandemic has had a major impact on student lives.

In England?

GCSE and A-level students in England have been assured of a so-called "triple lock" approach, essentially picking their best result.

It means students could accept their calculated grade, appeal to receive valid mock results, or sit their exams when schools resume properly in the autumn.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson announced on Tuesday evening that results in mock tests - which were held before schools were forced to close amid the pandemic - will carry the same weight as the calculated results to be awarded later this month.

Scottish Student "absolute delighted" at grades change

What about Scotland?

Mr Williamson's announcement followed a U-turn north of the border, when Scotland's Education Secretary John Swinney revealed tens of thousands of students would have their exam results upgraded following a public outcry.

Students complained after the moderation systems resulted in the downgrading of more than 124,000 test results.

Instead, those lowered results would revert to the grades estimated by pupils' teachers.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was also forced to apologise for the moderation fiasco, after it emerged students from deprived backgrounds saw their results disproportionately downgraded.

The Scottish education system is different to that in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, with Highers being the equivalent of A-levels.

Nick Ferrari asks the Schools Minister to give himself a grade

What's happening in Wales?

The Welsh Government has insisted there will be no such problems for their A-level results.

Housing and local government minister Julie James said during a briefing on Tuesday that Wales uses different modelling to Scotland and that nearly half of pupils' final mark was based on AS-levels completed last year.

There had been concerns from students that such a model would mean pupils at schools which had historically not performed as well would be unfairly penalised.

But Ms James said: "We are obviously very keen that our learners are given the accolade they need for the hard work that they've done but also that they get the grades that they deserve, and that those grades are robust and will take them forward into their lives with confidence.

"We're not expecting what happened in Scotland to happen here."

Sir Jon Coles, Chief Executive of United Learning on A-level results

And in Northern Ireland?

Results will be based on teachers' predictions and statistical modelling.

Teachers were asked to predict the grades they thought pupils would have achieved had exams gone ahead, based on coursework, the result of mock exams, and homework.

Schools were also requested to rank pupils in each subject.

But Northern Ireland's exams body, the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment, said students will have a broader scope to appeal their A-level and GCSE grades.

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What are the main concerns about the various approaches?

Few students would have been able to predict the impact the pandemic would have on them - in particular, that their final grade might hinge on mock exam results.

Student approaches to mock exams vary - some see it as a chance to test themselves, some deem it a distraction. Others are ambivalent.

So it is understandable that there is concern that exams previously dismissed as being of low value by some students are now being relied upon to determine their futures.

There are also concerns that teacher estimates - which can now be used by Scottish pupils who saw their results downgraded after moderation - might not be accurate.

While different nations have had different approaches, the confusion and last-minute goalpost-changing in England and Scotland in particular may result in a wave of appeals from schools - although there will be a lot of pressure to get those appeals dealt with promptly ahead of the new academic year.