Workload

1. Is there a contractual period of time-off for grading students’ work?

No. However, your school should now have a plan, agreed with staff, on how this work will be carried out. This plan should include how workload will be managed. The earlier this is done the better and your timetable must include sufficient time to undertake this work. Head teachers and leaders should not ask you to undertake additional or unnecessary tasks during this period and if you need to free up time in your calendar to complete this duty, it should be made available to you. This may mean removing or reallocating some of your usual responsibilities and regular work.

2. Will I get paid extra for grading the work, in a similar way to teachers being paid to mark papers in the summer holidays?

No. There is no additional pay for carrying out this work because it will be undertaken during normal term time and within your directed time. This is not the same as being employed by an exam board to grade papers. However, you may wish to explore with your head/SLT whether there will be entry fee rebates from the exam boards, or other ways of releasing additional budgets.

3. Should teachers be given time to carry out grading and gathering evidence?

Yes. You should not be undertaking grading and exam work this year on top of your normal duties. Staff involved in grading should have room in their directed time calendar for summer 2021 to carry out this duty. It may be necessary to agree with school or college leadership/heads of department what tasks you might normally do within directed time that can be cancelled or postponed around peak points for the grading process.

4. I am having to plan and set work for all students, including exam years, in addition to assessing exam papers. My workload has doubled, and I have no gained time. What can be done to stop this?

Schools should have an agreed detailed plan for undertaking this work. The earlier you agree a detailed plan, the better. Final grades must be submitted to exam boards by centres by 18 June and your timetables for the summer term should therefore reflect this, including any additional resources (for example supply staff) that will be required to free up time and prevent excessive workload.

If you find yourself in this situation, you should agree with your head/leadership team what tasks you might normally do within directed time that can be cancelled or postponed at peak points in the grading process. You may also suggest freeing up larger blocks of time, by extending planned PPA time for example.

5. Am I entitled to administrative support for the documenting of evidence?

Yes. There should be an agreed whole school plan for the process, which should include the level and frequency of additional support you may need during the grading process. You need to be specific during the planning stage and don’t be shy to ask for help if you need it.

6. I am being asked to document work not referred to when assessing students’ grades, is this correct?

No, you should not be undertaking any additional work not required or specified in the Government guidance. If you are, please contact your local NEU branch for support.

7. I have been asked to carry out administrative tasks in relation to grading and exam work for this year. Is this correct?

No. Teachers should only be undertaking duties that require their expertise and qualifications. There will be an external quality assurance process by exam boards to ensure that grades are fair and appropriate. This will include randomly sampling the evidence used at each school and college. As such, any administrative work necessary to support this – such as scanning students’ work/exam papers to be sent to boards – should be carried out by support/clerical/administrative staff and not by a teacher.

8. Teachers in my school/college are being asked and directed to mark all the exam scripts over the half term holiday so that the school can inform parents of the grades.  

It is unreasonable to direct teachers to mark exams during the summer half-term holidays. Teachers and frankly all staff deserve and have earned a well-needed break and rest. Staff should only be directed to work during term time and all work, including the work relating to grading students this summer, must be included in their directed time calendars.

Furthermore, schools and colleges are not allowed to disclose to parents or students what grade they are submitting to the exam board. They are allowed to give feedback on individual pieces of work, but not the overall final grade.  So that would negate any need for requiring teachers to mark exams during the summer half-term. 

Appeals

9. Can I be expected to attend work during the summer holidays if there are appeals etc?

No. Students will have a right to appeal, therefore, it is possible that the evidence used to support any of the grade judgements could be required after results days (10 August for AS and A-levels, 12 August for GCSEs). 

It is important that the evidence used to determine grades is easily accessible to relevant staff and collated centrally. Members should agree with Heads and SLT in advance how appeals will be processed and make it clear they should not be required to be available during the summer holidays.  Any tasks required of you to support appeals must be completed in advance and during term time.  In order to minimise any excessive workload that this might create during term time, this work should be prioritised and other activities should be cancelled or postponed.

Prior to grades being awarded, teachers should make students aware of the evidence they are using to assess them; they will have the opportunity to confirm the evidence is their own work and make their teachers aware of any mitigating circumstances they believe should be taken into account. Furthermore, there will be quality assurance processes in place to ensure fairness and consistency, both within and between schools and colleges. Your school or college will have to meet requirements set out by the awarding bodies and the awarding bodies will have their own processes too. This should keep appeals to a minimum and ensure workload as a result of appeals is manageable.

10. Can a student appeal on the grounds of the evidence selected?

The Government has decided students can appeal on this basis. However, appeals will only lead to a change of grade if using that evidence, in the exam board’s opinion, was “an unreasonable exercise of academic judgement”.  Where other evidence could have reasonably been used, exam boards will not take appeals simply on this basis – it is only if the evidence that was used was not, in their view, reasonable for grading that student.

There may be some exceptional circumstances where it is not reasonable to grade a student using the process spelled out in the centre policy, but schools and colleges have been given the flexibility to account for this in the grading process. Therefore, the question in an appeal in relation to the selection of evidence will be whether a decision to depart from, or not to depart from, the school or college’s written procedure for that particular learner was an unreasonable exercise of academic judgement.

As such, if the student in question did not have exceptional circumstances and the evidence used for them is in line with the exam-board-approved centre policy then it is highly unlikely an appeal on these grounds would be successful.  Additionally, students should be made aware that appeals could lead to a decrease in their grade and are not limited only to an increase.

11. What happens if the student disagrees with evidence selected to use for assessment?

The JCQ guidance, supported by DfE and Ofqual, makes it clear that decisions on the evidence used to award grades are ones for education staff in the school or college and it is not up for negotiation or to be influenced by students, parents or anyone else. There may be reasonable exceptions to the usual policy but they too would be decisions for school and college staff - see the “Students and parents’ input” section of our guidance for more information.

Exams

12. My school is proposing all exam year pupils to sit in-house GCSEs over a two-week period up to half term. This will mean the pupils sit two exams every day over the fortnight. Is this correct?

It is not against the rules to base grades purely on examination results. However, the NEU position is that using exams alone is likely not to be a fair way to grade all students, given the differing levels of access to learning they have experienced. The reason the normal exam series was cancelled was because the Government recognised that a more flexible method for awarding grades was necessary to ensure the fairest outcome possible in the circumstances. Pupils have been forced to learn in an unprecedented manner, in difficult conditions, during an extremely disrupted academic year. 

Given the range of evidence allowable and the flexibility available under the guidance, the NEU would encourage schools to think more widely where appropriate and not use tests/exams only to decide a pupil’s grade, particularly in the intensive and short timescale in which exams tend to occur. It should also be noted the Government expects teaching and learning to continue for as much of the summer term as possible. If grades are based solely on exams, once exams are over, there could be an impact on students’ motivation to return to school.

13. Will students be expected to leave school on 18th June?

This is yet to be confirmed by the Government and we are seeking further clarification. We’ve been advised that as the law currently stands, students in their final year of study are expected to be available to be in school until the last Friday in June. It hasn’t been clarified yet whether this is still the case nor whether there will be any changes to that for this year. We will update advice once the Government confirms the position.

Ofsted

14. I’m concerned Ofsted may visit during the assessment period. Will there be a suspension of visits until 18 June?

No. Ofsted inspections resume in the summer term. There will be no graded inspections of schools or colleges before April. Monitoring inspections of all maintained schools graded “inadequate” and some graded “require improvement” were taking place during the spring term and monitoring visits to colleges resumed in January 2021.

The NEU is urging head teachers to continue to suspend all in-school accountability activities, such as lesson observations, learning walks and drop-ins that schools are not legally or contractually required to undertake, during this academic year. More guidance is available here.