Working to make government more effective


Covid Tests: Schools and exams in 2022 and beyond

With exams returning in 2022, the Department for Education and Ofqual face difficult decisions about grading, fairness and restoring confidence in the

Covid Tests: Schools and exams in 2022 and beyond warns that even if exams can be sat in the usual way next year they cannot be assessed as usual, as a sudden return to the 2019 grading model would heavily penalise the 2022 cohort.

After years of disrupted education next year’s entrants are likely to find their exams-assessed grades lower than the 2019 cohort – and a lot lower than the 2020 and 2021 cohorts, who benefitted from more generous teacher-awarded grades and with whom they will be in closest competition for university places and jobs. The paper says while all options are problematic, using 2020 as a baseline is the fairest option, despite ‘baking in’ some inflation.

The pandemic has also exposed the lack of resilience in the exams system. The unusually high stakes placed on end-of-course exams in England – and particularly GCSEs, which heavily influence university applications – left DfE in a worse position than many of its European counterparts when faced with cancelations. Its refusal to make contingency plans in 2020 only worsened the problem.

Improved contingency planning, alongside wider reform to secondary assessment including some essay-based tests replacing in-person exams, would create a fairer and more reliable system for England’s schools. It would also better equip them to weather future shocks.

DfE and Ofqual have said they are waiting to see the 2021 results to decide on grading for 2022, but the paper recommends that they act now to:

  • use 2020 grades, not 2019, as a baseline for 2022 grading. While this ‘bakes in’ some grade inflation, it is fairer on next year’s entrants, who will compete most closely with Covid-era cohorts for university places and jobs
  • issue clear guidance to universities, further education institutions and employers to ensure they understand the differences between cohorts when they make selections
  • prepare to publish a resilience strategy in 2022 so that England’s schools are better prepared for future crises at national or local level
  • set up a full review of secondary assessment looking at methods of assessing pupils.
Institute for Government

Related content