GCSEs and A-Levels – what can we expect from results day 2022, and beyond?


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After two years of cancelled exams and teacher-assessed grades, this month sees the publication of GCSE, A-level and other results following a return to 'traditional' exams. 

However, we know from Ofqual that results day 2022 will be a year of 'transition' back to pre-pandemic grading, rather than a complete return to how things stood in 2019. What is unique about this year and what further changes can institutions, students and parents expect further down the line? What help and advice is available if things have not gone to plan with your results and admission to university?

Grade deflation

After a brief flirtation with algorithms in summer 2020, the Department for Education permitted GCSE and A-level results in 2020 and 2021 to be based on a student's predicted grades. This allowed for teachers to draw on a wide range of evidence of student performance in order to grade students without formal exam assessments.

The noticeable impact of relying on predicted grades was record grade inflation, in particular for the top grades of A/A* at A-level. However, the return to traditional exam assessment in 2022 will likely see grade deflation, with grades expected to be at a halfway point between 2019 and 2021. Because Ofqual has mandated a generous approach to grading this year, further grade deflation should be expected in 2023.

Pressure on University places?

Higher grades in 2020 presented a shock to the university admissions system, with more students than expected meeting their offer conditions and becoming eligible to take up places at their firm choice universities. Freedom of Information requests now reveal that universities have offered millions of pounds worth of incentives to students to defer places. The logical consequence of these mass deferrals is to put pressure on university places in subsequent years.  Would students completing their A-levels this year have been more likely to gain an offer of a place on their chosen course in earlier years?

An open letter to students from Ofqual and UCAS indicates that most will get their first choice of university place. However, a reassurance such as this would be easier to make in circumstances where universities are offering fewer places.

Social mobility concerns

The impact of COVID in the education sector reaches beyond changes to examination and assessment methods. Extended periods of home-schooling have exposed inequalities in pupils' access to tech, nutrition and a suitable home environment for study. Adjustments to GCSE and A-level assessments in future years may be needed to mitigate against those students carrying a 'COVID-disadvantage' throughout the remainder of their education and into the workplace.

The use of predicted grades in 2020 and 2021 overwhelmingly benefitted wealthier students from private institutions, who are more likely to be predicted higher grades by their teachers. Following a consultation, the Government has now postponed plans to switch to a 'post qualification admissions' (PQA) system for universities. While a PQA system would seemingly even out inequalities by removing the role of predicted grades from the university admissions process, it seems that the current system is here to stay for a while longer.

How can we help?

Trowers & Hamlins LLP has extensive experience of resolving disputes in the education sector, acting for both individuals as well as public and private institutions. We know the importance of engaging with students, schools, exam boards and the regulator, Ofqual, without delay in order to ensure as little disruption as possible to a student's progress to the next stage of their education.

Our in-depth knowledge of both the private law and public law aspects of educational disputes (including the Judicial Review process and claims under the Equality Act 2010) enables us to advise you comprehensively and strategically on how to approach any challenges to academic results and admissions decisions this summer. Our other relevant expertise includes regularly dealing with special and education needs and disabilities (SEND) matters and education, health and care (EHC) plans, as well as data protection law.

You can find more about our experience here. 

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