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What families & students need to know now about summer 2021 grading

Posted on 24 May 2021

Last summer's exam grading led to many students receiving grades that did not reflect their individual achievement, with a large number of appeals and students missing out on university places. 

Here, we provide a simple guide on what students and their families ought to be doing as soon as possible this month to ensure their exam grades are as accurate a reflection of their own skills and achievements as possible.

Proactive, over Appeals

Successfully appealing a grade is likely to be exceptionally difficult. Even if against the odds a student is successful on appeal, their grade may not necessarily improve.

Therefore, although students cannot know the grades their schools or colleges send to the exam boards, we recommend that students take steps now to help ensure their grades are a fair reflection of their performance before they are submitted. This requires students and parents to be proactive now, and to utilise the levers which Ofqual and JCQ have provided this year, through their guidance (which can be found here).

Summary of 2021 Grading

How will grades be determined?

  • A student's grade will be decided by teacher judgement, with grades signed off by the relevant head of department and the head teacher before being submitted to the exam board.
  • The school/college must follow guidance when determining the grades and the exam boards will check they have done so.
  • A range of evidence can be used, such as mocks, in-class tests, homework and work your child has already done, along with non-exam assessments/coursework. The evidence can be about the student's performance throughout their course.
  • The school/college alone will decide which evidence to use.
  • The school/college will try and use the same sources of evidence for everyone in the class and the evidence will be specific to the subject.​

Quality Assurance

  • There will be two tiers of quality assurance applied to students' grades; by the school/college and by the exam board.
  • The school/college needs to have its own quality assurance policy (the Centre Policy) to ensure they have determined the grades appropriately. The school/college must have fully and uniformly applied the policy to their grading.
  • The exam board will review this policy, after receiving the teacher assessed grades. The exam board will also investigate a sample of student work across the school/college, to identify any problems.


  • Ahead of A-Level and AS Level exam results day on 10 August or GCSE results day on 12 August, we plan to provide further guidance, setting out the appeal process.
  • At this point, we recommend students focus on engaging with the school/college, to make sure the teacher assessed grades are as accurate as possible before submission on 18 June (the latest date by which schools/colleges must submit their teacher assessed grades).
  • In the event a student does need to appeal, there will be a 'priority appeal window' for those students who need their results to progress to higher education.

Engaging with the school/college

Unlike last year, Ofqual and JCQ have clearly set out that schools/colleges should provide certain information to students. The information students should ask to see before grades are submitted in mid-June is:

  1. Evidence: Which pieces of work will count towards the teacher assessed grades;
  2. Special Circumstances: What special circumstances (if any) - either reasonable adjustments or extenuating circumstances - will be taken into account when determining a student's grades;
  3. Date of Submission: We believe schools/colleges should tell students when their grades will be submitted to the exam board; and
  4. The Centre Policy: The school/college must submit their quality assurance policy to the exam board – students and their families can ask school/colleges to share the policy with them and to also put it on the school website.

If a student or their family does not believe they have been made aware of any of the above information, in particularly point (i) above, they should contact the relevant school/ college as a matter of urgency.

The guidance also makes clear that students need to speak to their school/college about any of the following by this May or early June at the latest (if relevant):

  1. Reasonable Adjustments: if a student has a special educational need (SEN) and/or a disability this ought to be taken into account when devising the assessment and determining their grades. Students should notify their schools/colleges as soon as possible if they believe the school/college is not aware of a relevant SEN or disability or if they believe the school/college may not have made appropriate adjustments.
  2. Exceptional Circumstances: has there been an issue or an event that has had or is reasonably likely to have had, a material effect on the student's ability to demonstrate their normal level of attainment in an assessment? For instance, a bereavement of a loved one or a recent injury. If so, the student or their family should get in touch with the school/college as a matter of urgency.
  3. Teacher Impartiality: if a student is concerned that a teacher might not be impartial when considering their grade it should be raised as soon as possible. Schools/colleges must "appropriately manage" conflicts of interest.

Overall, students or their families should contact the school/college before the end of May if they have concerns about any of the above.

If you would like any advice in relation to this year's exam grades, please contact Robert Lewis, Janet Tobin, Michael Walker or Shulamit Aberbach.

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