A-level and GCSE grades awarded in 2023 will be lower on average than this summer, the Ministry of Education has announced, as it has confirmed plans to bring the grades back to pre-pandemic levels.
While the DfE and Ofqual, the exam regulator for England, said some help would remain for those whose learning disabilities had been disrupted, school leaders and experts warned that the students most affected by Covid were most likely to suffer the downward adjustment.
Natalie Perera, chief executive of the Education Policy Institute, said she remained concerned about the impact on disadvantaged students, especially those in the north of England, who suffered the greatest learning loss during the pandemic.
“While their study for their qualifications may not have been affected by national closures, the years leading up to them – and laying the foundations for their courses – were significantly disrupted,” she said.
Sarah Hannafin, senior policy advisor to the National Association of Head Teachers, said: “Next year’s exam cohort has faced disruption in their learning for the past three years. For those taking A-levels, these will be the first formal exams they take. It is right that this is recognized and steps are taken to ensure that the cohort is not disadvantaged as a Result of their experiences.”
National exams, including A-levels, GCSEs and BTECs, were mandated by the government in 2020 and 2021, with grades awarded using a more generous system of local assessments, leading to record levels of top grades.
Jo Saxton, Ofqual’s chief regulator, said: “We expect the overall results in 2023 to be much closer to pre-pandemic years than results since 2020. This decision means results in 2023 will be lower than in 2022. “
The government had previously announced that grading would return to pre-pandemic levels through a two-year process, with exams in the summer of 2022 due mid-2019 and grading by teachers in 2021.
But Saxton said senior examiners would make adjustments if exam performance next year was “slightly lower” compared to students taking exams before the pandemic.
“Broadly speaking… a typical student who would have earned an A grade in their A-level geography before the pandemic will be just as likely to get an A next summer, even if their performance in the 2023 assessments is slightly weaker than in before the pandemic,” Saxton said.
Next summer’s candidates will not be given advance notice on exam topics, but those taking GCSE Mathematics, Physics and Combined Sciences will be given formulas and equation sheets. Fieldwork, non-exam evaluation and science practicals have also been reintroduced.
The return to normality in the exam hall has been accompanied by a return to classrooms, according to new figures released by the DfE. The DfE’s survey of schools in England found that the national attendance rate was 95% for the week ending Sept. 12, back to levels last seen before the pandemic outbreak.
The figures will come as a relief to MPs and policymakers, who feared that pandemic-related school closures had caused high levels of persistent absenteeism and truancy.