Family & Education

GCSEs: What's different with this year's exams?

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Media captionRoger Taylor: "It simply has not been an acceptable experience for young people"

GCSE results for pupils in England, Wales and Northern Ireland have been published.

This year's results are very different, because coronavirus meant that students did not sit exams, and it's all about estimates.

What are GCSEs and how are they graded?

The GCSE is the qualification taken by 15 and 16-year-olds to graduate from the Key Stage 4 phase of secondary education in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The grading system in England has now been changed from letters to numbers. The old A* has been replaced by grades 9 and 8, with 7 replacing A.

The updated grades were part of a new curriculum introduced in England's schools in 2014 by the then education secretary, Michael Gove, putting far more emphasis on exams rather than coursework.

Wales kept its letter-based grading structure, while Northern Ireland opted for a mixture of letters and numbers for its grades.

Students in Scotland sit different exams and have already had their results.

How have the results been decided?

After a last-minute change by the government, pupils' GCSE grades have been based on teachers' assessments.

They were due to be decided by a mathematical model, known as an algorithm, but this plan was abandoned a few days ago.

The U-turn came after uproar when about 40% of last week's A-level results were downgraded by exam regulator Ofqual.

Ofqual chair Roger Taylor told the BBC the regulator decided to "change course" after seeing the "anxiety" it had caused to young people.

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What other results are coming out?

A range of vocational results, such as Level 1 and 2 BTecs, were due to be published, but these have been delayed.

Pearson, the company which runs BTecs, has asked schools and colleges not to issue any Level 1 and 2 results yet because they are being "reviewed and where appropriate, re-graded".

It is acting because of what it calls "impact on BTec students", after GCSE grades were changed by Ofqual.

Unlike GCSEs and A-levels, BTecs are formally assessed throughout the academic year meaning that there is more information on which to base final grades. Level 3 BTec results were issued alongside A-levels last week.

How much learning was missed?

Schools were closed across the UK in the middle of March - just before the coronavirus lockdown was imposed - meaning pupils missed the end of the spring term and all of the summer term.

Some first-year GCSE students, who take their exams next summer, were invited into schools from June to do some studying, but the amount of support varied from school to school.

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Media caption‘Exam results don’t define you - you do’

How will colleges be affected by the redefined GCSE results?

It will be business as usual.

Colleges will try to be flexible in order to accommodate all students who need or want a place. If students don't have a confirmed place, colleges will be able to advise on the most suitable course in a wide range of subjects.

They will be open on Thursday to give information, advice and guidance in person or online/by phone. Students need to follow college guidance on submitting their results to the college.

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