Students sitting exams next year will benefit from more generous grades and advance notice of topic areas, the government said.

The Department for Education said it would provide a 'package of exceptional measures' to make exams in 2021 as fair as possible and manage the disruption caused by Covid-19.

In recognition of the challenges faced by students this year, grades will be more generous, students will be given advance notice of some topic areas, and steps will be taken to ensure every student receives a grade, even if they miss a paper due to self-isolation or illness.

Building on the three week delay to exams to free up extra teaching time announced in October, the new measures include:

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said:

“Exams are the best way of giving young people the opportunity to show what they can do which is why it’s so important they take place next summer.

“But this isn’t business as usual. I know students are facing unprecedented disruption to their learning. That’s why exams will be different next year, taking exceptional steps to ensure they are as fair as possible.

“I am determined to support students, parents and teachers in these unprecedented times and hope measures like more generous grading and advance notice of some topic areas will give young people the clarity and confidence they need to achieve every success.”

The government said today’s announcement follow extensive engagement with Ofqual, exam boards and senior leaders across the education sector.

They believe the measures recognise that while teachers have gone above and beyond to support their pupils during a difficult period, some young people have had their teaching disrupted more than others and will need extra support to catch up on the curriculum and achieve their potential in exams.

In these instances, receiving advance notice of some topic areas and being given exams aids will support students and ensure they can move on to their next stage of education, training or employment with the grades they deserve.

Students taking vocational and technical qualifications will also see adaptations to ensure parity between general and vocational qualifications. Some vocational qualifications will require more varied adaptations due to the different qualification types.

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The government has also developed a series of contingency measures with Ofqual that will mean, even if students miss one or more exams due to self-isolation or sickness but have still completed a proportion of their qualification they will still receive a grade.

If a student misses all their assessments in a subject, they will have the opportunity to sit a contingency paper held shortly after the main exams. In the extreme case where a student has a legitimate reason to miss all their papers, then a validated teacher informed assessment can be used, only once all chances to sit an exam have passed.

The government will set out further detail on this process, and on adaptations to exams, in the new year.

The government has also announced that full, graded Ofsted inspections will not resume until the summer term.

In the interim, Ofsted will conduct supportive monitoring inspections to those schools and colleges currently judged “inadequate” and some that “require improvement”. These inspections will focus on important issues like curriculum, remote education and pupil attendance, particularly of vulnerable children.

Ofsted will also continue to have the power to inspect a school, further education or early years provider, if they have serious concerns, including about safeguarding and remote education.