CfEM Blog: Preparing for GCSE assessment submissions

Blog by Eddie Playfair, Senior Policy Manager at the Association of Colleges for the Centres for Excellence in Maths (CfEM) programme.

It’s a busy time for college GCSE maths teachers, and one of their biggest preoccupations right now is how to grade their students and ensure that they have enough evidence to support the grades they will be submitting. The pressure is on, as these will most likely become the students’ final grades.

The challenge of GCSE maths is the sheer size of the cohort in many colleges and the fact that these students’ achievements will inevitably be ‘bunched’ around grades 2 to 4, making those grade boundary judgements particularly difficult – and these judgements are critical for many students’ progression.

The Ofqual and JCQ guidance on the process are now available and there is a great deal of support available from the awarding organisations. The awarding organisation advisory group of the Centres for Excellence in Maths meets regularly, and we used this forum to discuss this year’s grading arrangements in March and we will be meeting more often to raise key issues affecting GCSE maths teachers.

It is particularly important this year that any further loss of teaching time is kept to a minimum and to ensure that formal assessment doesn’t dominate the summer term. Judgements will need to be made on the basis of a selection of assessments and maths departments will need to engage in cross college standards moderation in line with their centre policy. Colleges will also need to be ready to submit portfolios for any of their candidates if they are sampled by the awarding organisation. Those portfolios will need to contain enough evidence across the assessment objectives without being excessively bulky.

This will be all the more challenging because many teachers will feel they don’t know their students as well as in a normal year and, as a result of lockdown and the increase in online delivery, they may also have had fewer opportunities to assess students’ work. Many teachers are concerned that students’ 2020 results might not have reflected what their grade would have been in a normal year and that it may be very difficult for students to demonstrate progress and improve their grade in 2021.

There has also been a lot of concern about the arrangements for assessing Functional Skills where centre assessed grades is not an option which can be chosen for students. Clearly some students have an online assessment, or could still do one, but there is still a strong feeling that Functional Skills candidates are being treated differently from GCSE candidates. Awarding organisations have assured us that they will try to make the application process for a centre awarded grade as streamlined as possible.

The awarding organisations will also be providing additional assessment materials and marked exemplars showing how to make judgements at grade boundaries and this will be particularly useful at the grade 3/4 boundary and also for grade 1, where non-achievement means failing the course.

This summer’s grading system puts a big additional responsibility on teachers and we know that everyone will be doing their best to ensure students get the grades they deserve and that the results reflect everyone’s hard work at this exceptionally difficult time.

Please work closely with your awarding body on this year’s grading and don’t hesitate to get in touch with me if you have any remaining concerns about the process.

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