UPDATE: Primary SATS results may be used as a guide for teachers awarding cancelled GCSEs and A levels

Following the decision to cancel public examinations this summer due the coronavirus pandemic and school closures, new information has emerged today on the way in which pupils will be graded. 

The Headlines

• Teachers must answer the key question: What grade would this particular student most plausibly have achieved if they were taking the exam? Mock grades and predicated grades may be different

• Teachers to look at performance age 11 to help settle on grade. SATs results will not be used directly but assist teachers to confirm grade based on prior performance

• Advice for schools to “not seek any further work from students at this point to support teacher-assessed grades”

• Year 11 and Year 13 students should focus on subjects they wish to pursue the following year

If you have a pupil who was due to sit their GCSEs in 2020, you’ll need to rewind back to 2015 if you want to get an indication of what grade they might be awarded this summer.  End of school primary tests (SATs) will be used, in some part, as way to determine the 2020 GCSE grades to be awarded by schools.

According to the Association of School and College Leaders (ACSL), who today (30 March) published guidance on teacher-assessed grades, primary data will be used in conjunction with the answer to the key question:

What grade would this particular student most plausibly have achieved if they were taking the exam?

ACSL confirmed the Department for Education has outlined its plans for a system of moderated teacher-assessment in England but more detailed information about how the system will work is expected from The Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual) and the exam boards shortly.

For now, this is guidance on the guidance. It's a good answer but not THE answer on how grades will be decided in 2020.

ASCL Deputy Director of Policy Duncan Baldwin has written a paper to help schools and colleges prepare for the new system based on ACSL’s “best assessment of how it will operate.”

So, for now, this is not the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth that pupils and parents have been craving – but it's certainly the best insight any of us have been given to date.

Key guidance given to teachers on how to award 2020 GCSE and A level grades

1. Teachers and schools need to put school ranking and how they will be judged on this year’s results out of their mind.

2. ACSL would expect the national picture for teacher-assessed grades to be broadly similar to that which would have occurred is students had actually taken their exam

3. Teachers are strongly advised to not give students benefit of the doubt grades i.e. not to give a pupil a 4 to assist them pass. Ofqual will be taking steps to ensure grade distribution reflects that of similar years and will apply a moderation process if there seems to bulge in pass rates or a sense of being overly generous.

4. This is an opportunity for teachers to show teacher assessment can be a valid and trusted way to award grades. For those who think the current system of new-style “tougher” GCSEs at 16 is inappropriate, there is a chance to show there are alternatives to exam-factory assessment.

5. The key question (What grade would this particular student most plausibly have achieved if they were taking the exam?) should not be confused with target grades which can be inflated.

6. ASCL say they know there will be differences across schools and colleges but state “awarding organisations know which centres tend to perform better than others over time.”

7. Tools can help teachers answer this key question and one of them is to look at the average trajectory from primary SATs results to GCSE based on tables of 2019 results published by the Department for Education. In these tables, teachers can track average percentage of grades from starting levels. These are set down as “guiding principles”.

For example, a teacher awarding a GCSE Geography grade can look at the pupil’s starting point and see what percentage of pupils – nationally – got the grade the teacher is thinking of awarding to gauge its accuracy based on the same starting point.

Example of how SATs grade used to give an indication of expected grade at GCSE

In 2019, GCSE Geography pupils with a starting point of Level 4a in their SATs (age 11) had the following spread of grades:

20% of pupils gained a Grade 4
19% of pupils gained a Grade 5
14% of pupils gained a Grade 6
6% of pupils gained a Grade 7
2% of pupils gained a Grade 8
0% of pupils gained a Grade 9

Note: the 2014 SATs results were awarded as levels from Level 1 to Level 5 with all levels above 3 being segmented into a, b and c i.e. pupils could get 3a, 3b or 3c. 4b was deemed to be the national average and 5a is the top mark available. In 2014, pupils could still sit a Level 6 paper but this depended on the school entering its most-able pupils for the test and is not included in the government tables.

In comparison, pupils with a starting point of Level 5a (the top mark at age 11) saw this spread of grades:

31% of pupils gained a Grade 9
29% of pupils gained a Grade 8 
22% of pupils gained a Grade 7
11% of pupils gained a Grade 6 
4% of pupils gained a Grade 5
1% of pupils gained a Grade 4 
1% of pupils gained a Grade 3
0% of puils gained a Grade 2

“While the government tables look complicated to decipher it means, in short, pupils with higher prior attainment tend to get higher grades. It isn't 'grade rocket science' but it is based on a lot of assumpions from a previous time at a previous school.'


It's not clear how indpendent schools, many of which take a large number of pupils from preparatory schools where SATs tests are mandatory, will use prior attainment as a guide for grading.


Will there be tests online for pupils ahead of grading? 

A number of schools have already written to parents advising them their pupils will be expected to sit some kind of online, open book-style test after the Easter break. 

Importantly, however, ASCL have advised teachers and leaders that they should “not be seeking any further work from students at this point to support teacher-assessed grades.” They write: “Not all students will be able to respond; some will be ill whilst others will be living under more difficult circumstances at home.”

So if they are not packing in Easter revision, what should Year 11 and Year 13 pupils be doing? Completing the curriculum in the subjects they wish to pursue the following year so as “not to add collateral to the assessment process.”


Where on earth are my child's SATs results? 

Finally, while there are today a few more answers on the 2020 grading process for parents, there may be one question no exam board or education expert can help us answer: 

Where on earth did I put that piece of paper from 2015? 

SATs results are usually posted to parents. Where parents put them on receipt is another matter. 

On the plus side, many of us have several weeks at home in which to find them. 

Similar guidance on arrangements for how grades will be awarded to pupils in Wales and Northern Ireland will be published by ASCL soon.