LATEST: Mini exams to be ‘optional’ for schools for summer 2021

Externally-set questions to be ‘optional’ for schools the Schools Minister Nick Gibb has announced today. 

There had been a backlash to the idea of so-called mini exams being part of this year's grading system when it was tabled as part the joint consultation by Ofqual and the Department for Education in January. The consultation has asked whether exam boards should “make available a set of papers” to aid teachers in reaching grades but the proposals have been significantly watered down in the confirmed plans. 

Exam boards will instead provide “optional” questions for each subject, which teachers can use alongside other evidence – such as coursework and mock exam results.

More details will be confirmed later today (Thursday 25 February) but the government have also confirmed results days 2021

The news comes after only 26 % of students who responded to the consultation agreed that externally set papers should be provided. Schools were more supportive – 69 % of teachers agreed, as did 72 % of school leaders.

Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary at the National Education Union, had said that the process set out today is “better than the original consultation proposals” and is likely “the least worst option available”.

Optional questions part of a 'flexible' assessment approach 

Teachers will have flexibility on whether and how they use optional questions set by exam boards, some of which will be based on past papers and others that will be previously unseen. Questions will be released for all subjects, likely by topic area, and they do not have to be sat in exam conditions.

There have been concerns raised, however, about the validity of the source of the optional questions that may come from "legacy" exam papers. This story suggests that GCSE and A level pupils could sit questions from pre-reform exam specifications because of lack of past papers from new system. 


Heads will have to confirm pupils have learned ‘sufficient content’ for progression

Teachers will give students grades based on the content they have been taught and reach their judgement using optional questins from the exam boards, mock results and coursework. 

But heads of centres will still have to confirm in a declaration that students have been taught “sufficient content” to allow progression to the next stage of their education.

Ofqual’s interim chief regulator Simon Lebus said: “We will not set any requirements about the minimum amount of content that should be taught or assessed, but we will ask the head of your school or college to confirm that you have been taught enough content so that you can progress to the next stage of your education.”

Re-sits in the autumn are also an option 

Last year, almost 60 per cent of students who took an autumn exam in GCSE subjects other than English and maths improved on their grades issued in the summer. The top results at A-level dropped compared to the summer’s centre assessed grades. in 2021, students who want a further chance to improve on their teacher assessment grades will be able to sit an exam in the autumn term. The government is set to announce a full autumn exam schedule shortly. 

The appeals system has changed for 2021 

There will also be an appeals process but appeals will go to the schools first. Under the revised plan which is different to 2020, schools will only have to check for errors and whether their own processes were followed in the first instance due to concerns about the workload placed on schools and teachers via the appeals process. 

Exam boards will review both the school’s processes and the evidence used to determine a students’ grade to confirm whether the grade was a “reasonable exercise of academic judgement” if the pupil decides they want to take the appeal further.