More lenient grades for GCSE and A-Level pupils in England to make up for Covid disruption

Exams are set to make a return - school pupils tell ITV News' Paul Brand how they feel about that

Pupils taking GCSE and A-level exams in England next year will know the focus of exam papers in advance and get more lenient grading than before the pandemic.

In a move to make up for Covid-19 disruption, students will also be offered exam aids and a choice of topics in some exams during the 2022 summer series.

More pupils are set to be given higher grades next year than before the pandemic to provide a “safety net” for the cohort of students who have missed out on learning during school and college closures.

But results are expected to return to normal standards by 2023, according to the Department for Education (DfE) and exams regulator Ofqual.

It comes after the proportion of GCSE and A-level entries awarded the top grades surged to a record high this year after results were determined by teachers amid cancelled exams due to Covid-19.

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The DfE and Ofqual have confirmed a choice of topics in some GCSE exams, such as English literature and history, will be offered, and support materials in exams, such as formulae and equation sheets in maths and physics, will be provided.

For subjects where a choice of topics are not provided, advance information on the focus of exam content will be given in early February to help students with their revision.

The final decisions come after a joint consultation launched in July.

But education unions say giving advanced information about exam content in the spring will be too late for teachers to prepare their pupils for the exams.

Grade boundaries will be set by exam boards reflecting a midway point between 2021 and 2019 results – so more students get higher grades in 2022 than before the pandemic – to reflect the recovery period.

It is understood that overall next summer’s results are likely to be higher than in 2019, but not as high as in 2020.

But the grading standards for students who are due to sit their exams in summer 2023 are expected to return to pre-pandemic levels.

This year, 44.8% of UK A-level entries were awarded an A or A* grade, compared with 38.5% entries which achieved the top grades in 2020.

In 2019, when exams were last run before the pandemic, 25.5% of entries achieved the top grades.

Students will receive their AS and A-level results on August 18 and their GCSE results on August 25 – a week apart.

It is the government’s intention that exams will take place next year, but the government and Ofqual have also published proposals for using teacher-assessed grades as a contingency measure if exams cannot run.

A consultation on proposed contingency plans will run until October 13.

What are the Covid rules in schools as pupils return for the autumn term?

Bubbles and social distancing

In all areas of the UK, bubbles are no longer required meaning the end of entire year groups being forced to self-isolate because of a single Covid-19 case.

This also means assemblies can return, the restrictions on mixing during breaks have gone and social distancing requirements have been eased.

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The government is trying to persuade parents, secondary school pupils and college students to take part in voluntary asymptomatic Covid-19 testing.

England's Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has said the easing of restrictions and the return of schooling which is “closer to normality” is welcome but warned that parents and children should not “throw caution to the wind” and encouraged pupils to take a test twice a week.

England's Department for Education (DfE) guidance states that secondary school and college students in England should be tested twice on-site on their return, with lateral flow tests carried out between three and five days apart.

The guidance then says pupils should then continue to test twice weekly at home until the end of September when the policy will be reviewed.

The government will also take over all test and trace requirements from schools and the NHS will contact the affected family directly, rather than going through the school.

Only if the pupil themselves tests positive for Covid will they need to self-isolate and miss school.

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Pupils in England and Wales are no longer required to wear masks on-site, although some schools have chosen to keep some mask requirements.

With the prediction that cases will rise when pupils will return, the leader of the largest teaching union in the UK has called on Mr Williamson to support schools to “consider face coverings from day one of term” alongside social distancing where possible.

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), said current safety requirements are “not sufficient” to prevent a rise in cases.

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Hygiene and ventilation

With most mandatory requirements now gone, the government has increased its emphasis on optional guidance, particularly around hygiene.

The new guidance advises regular and thorough hand washing as well as keeping the school as clean as possible.

Doing as much as possible to increase ventilation - particularly when parents are going to in to school buildings - is also being encouraged.

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A first Covid-19 vaccine dose is currently being offered to all 16 and 17-year-olds, and 12 to 15-year-olds with specific underlying health conditions and those who are household contacts of someone who is immunosuppressed.

Although the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has yet to advise on broadening the rollout to all 12-15 year olds the government is drawing up plans to carry it out if they do.

The NHS is preparing to deliver a school-based programme that will be supplemented with other delivery models where necessary to ensure full coverage across the country.

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