Exams back next summer, announce The Department for Education and Ofqual

Adaptations will be in place for 2022 summer exams to ensure fairness for students 

The Department for Education and Ofqual today set out plans for next year’s exams with adaptations in place to recognise the impact of the pandemic on students’ learning. The department and Ofqual will also be proposing contingency measures, and Ofqual is setting out plans for its grading approach.

  • Students to sit GCSE, A and AS level exams next year with adaptations to make up for disruption to learning
  • Ofqual sets out plans for fair and measured grading in 2022 and a return to normal standards by 2023
  • Plans will support students to achieve their best while ensuring fairness for those most affected by the pandemic


GCSE, AS and A level exams in England next summer will be adapted to maximise fairness and help students reach their potential.

Following a public consultation, the government and Ofqual have today (30 September) confirmed changes such as a choice of topics in some GCSE exams like English literature and history; advance information on the focus of exams to focus students’ revision in subjects, where there is not a choice of topics; and support materials like formulae sheets in maths.

These plans recognise the disruption caused to this year group’s education as a result of the pandemic, while balancing the need to return to exams as the fairest possible form of assessment.

With exams set to return, Ofqual has also set out its approach to grading, following the last two years which saw an overall higher proportion of students receiving top grades compared to pre-pandemic years.

We are committed to rigorous standards being fairly applied, and exams are the fairest way to assess students – Nadhim Zahawi, Education Secretary

Next year will be a transition year to reflect the recovery period, with grade boundaries to be set by exam boards reflecting a midway point between 2021 and 2019 – so that more students get higher grades in 2022 than before the pandemic.

This approach will provide a safety net for this year’s students as well as a step back to normality, with results expected to return to the usual grade profile by 2023.

‘Fairness at heart of approach’

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said: “We’ve put fairness at the heart of our approach and listened to pupils, teachers and parents. The measures we’re putting in place will help reduce the impact of the significant disruption this group of young people have had to face – allowing them to move onto the next stage of their lives.

“We are committed to rigorous standards being fairly applied, and exams are the fairest way to assess students, which is why they will take place next year.”

The return to exams means teachers will be able to focus on teaching and helping students catch up on their learning, while adaptations ensure fairness for students and help them to focus their revision.

The consultation gathered more than 6,000 responses – with almost a quarter from students – and showed that more than 90% of students and parents were in favour of giving advance information and around 80% or more agreed with offering choices of topics.

… the government and Ofqual have also published proposals for Teacher Assessed Grades as a contingency measure if exams cannot go ahead

It is the government’s firm intention that exams will take place next year, as the fairest way for students to show what they know and can do. But the government and Ofqual have also published proposals for Teacher Assessed Grades as a contingency measure if exams cannot go ahead, in the event that the course or impact of the pandemic changes.

Plans for VTQs

Alongside this, the department has set out how these arrangements will apply to vocational and technical qualifications (VTQs).

Ofqual chief regulator Dr Jo Saxton said: “The interests of learners are central to Ofqual’s mandate. For us, that means fairness. It means qualifications that stand the test of time, that employers, colleges and universities can trust.

“Our grading approach will recognise the disruption experienced by students taking exams in 2022. It will provide a safety net for those who might otherwise just miss out on a higher grade, while taking a step back to normal.

“Exams and other formal assessments are the best and fairest means of assessing students’ achievements. Choice in some subjects and advance information to support revision are intended to provide support for all as we emerge from the pandemic.”

Advance information to help students focus their revision over the final months will be given for summer exams in early February and the timing will be kept under review subject to the course of the pandemic.

The government has committed to an ambitious and long-term education recovery plan, including an investment to-date of over £3bn

Results for exams next year will return to their normal format, with AS and A levels being released on 18 August, and GCSEs on 25 August. VTQs used to progress in a similar way will be issued on or before the same days, and other VTQs results will continue to be issued throughout the year.

The government has committed to an ambitious and long-term education recovery plan, including an investment to-date of over £3bn, helping young people prepare for exams as well as supporting school-aged children across the country. This includes a significant expansion of the tutoring programme, to support children and young people to make up for learning lost during the pandemic.

In response to the publication of the government’s plans for exams in 2022, Dr Hollie Chandler, Head of Policy (Higher Education) at the Russell Group, said:

“It is fair that as we emerge from the pandemic, 2022 will be a transition year for exams and assessments, given the disruption students have faced to their studies. The confirmation of details for A level exams in a timely fashion as well as a consultation on contingencies provides helpful certainty for universities as they plan their offer making and admissions decisions.

“Russell Group universities are very conscious that Covid-19 has disrupted the studies of many students making the transition to higher education. We recently launched Jumpstart University with The Open University to provide free resources – open to students enrolling at any institution – to help them prepare for and settle into their studies at university.”

Kate Green MP, Labour’s shadow education secretary, criticised the government’s delay and lack of ambition:

“Labour set out a comprehensive plan for 2022 exams weeks ago but students have been left anxiously waiting while the Conservatives dithered and delayed.

“Over the next three years over 1.3 million children will leave school with no recovery support under the Conservative’s failing tutoring programme.

“In contrast, Labour’s ambitious recovery plan – extending the school day for new activities, tutoring for all who need it, mental health support in every school – will deliver the new opportunities to learn, play and develop every child needs. It’s time the Conservatives match Labours ambition for children’s recovery and their futures.”

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