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Pupils in England to get choice of topics and ‘advance information’ to make exams ‘fairer’

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Pupils taking GCSEs and A-levels in England next year will be given a choice of topics and be told the “focus” of exams in advance to “maximise fairness”.

The intention is to “help students reach their potential” after learning was disrupted during COVID, the Department for Education (DfE) said.

Following a consultation that attracted more than 6,000 responses, it has been decided there will be a “choice of topics” in GCSE English Literature, History and Ancient History, while there will be a “choice of content” in GCSE Geography.

In the majority of subjects at GCSE, AS and A-level, advance information will be given in the spring “on the focus of the content of exams”.

“Support materials” including formulae sheets will be provided in Mathematics, Physics, and combined science exams.

Among those responding to the consultation, more than 90% of students and parents were in favour of giving advance information and about 80% agreed with offering choices of topics.

Unions said advance information should be provided earlier than the spring to help teachers prepare pupils for the exam hall.

More on A-levels

Ofqual, meanwhile, has set out its strategy on grading, following a couple of years in which a higher proportion of students received top grades compared to pre-pandemic years overall.

Students are likely to get higher grades in 2022 than before the pandemic, the DfE said, adding that exam boards will set grade boundaries to reflect a “midway point between 2021 and 2019”.

Results are expected to return to the “usual grade profile” by 2023, the DfE added.

Exam
Image: There will be a ‘choice of topics’ in GCSE English Literature, History and Ancient History

“Our grading approach will recognise the disruption experienced by students taking exams in 2022,” said Ofqual’s chief regulator, Dr Jo Saxton.

“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.”

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said fairness was at the “heart of our approach”.

He continued: “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.”

Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said the plans will not “allay the anxiety or answer the questions” that many teachers have.

She added: “Only giving advanced information about the exams in time for revision will result in a ‘topic lottery’ where some students will have happened to have covered the topics on the exam in sufficient depth and others may well have not.”

On grades, Dr Bousted said the government and Ofqual are “picking an arbitrary number out of the air”.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union the NAHT, also said spring was too late to provide advance information.

But Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said he welcomed the “sensible set of measures”.

Last month, a record number of GCSE entries were awarded top grades after external exams were swapped for teacher assessments for the second year running because of the pandemic.

And A-level students received more A and A* grades this year than ever before.