Commenting on the Government’s arrangements for schools and colleges to determine GCSE, A Level and equivalent grades for 2021, Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: 

"It is wrong that education professionals, parents and students alike have had to wait until now to know how grades will be determined this summer. They have rightly been demanding clarity, some certainty and robust contingency planning since the start of the academic year and options to facilitate these things were highlighted to Government by the NEU.

"This wait, and therefore the anxiety stemming from it, has been exacerbated by two things. Firstly, for GCSEs and A-Levels, if Government didn’t rely solely on end-of-course exams in order to give the grade, there would already be some evidence of student performance ‘in the bank’, as there is for many other qualifications such as BTECs and Cambridge Nationals. Secondly, Government acted too late. Had there been steps taken at the start of the academic year to prepare for the eventuality that exams may not be able to happen, in the way the sector including the NEU had been calling for, this could have been more easily resolved. 

"Given this late action, in the situation we now find ourselves, the process laid out by Government today is better than the original consultation proposals and is likely the least worst option available. It is helpful that Government has listened to the consensus amongst the profession and this process gives students the best chance at grades which are as fair and consistent as possible in the circumstances: the NEU and its members will undoubtedly do everything they can now to make it work. 

"However, there are still question marks over how it is expected that the extra work necessary to facilitate grading will be dealt with. Substantial time will need to be set aside for the initial assessments and gradings and then the internal school moderation processes; it may well be that extra staff need to be employed to release teachers for this important work. The steps laid out by Government today rightly require the professional expertise of school and college staff – they are highly trained professionals who know their students well and are best placed to make decisions about their performance. However, they cannot be expected to simply absorb additional workload. This is another aspect of the plans which would have worked more easily had Government listened earlier in the academic year and put in place consistent, robust contingency arrangements for evidencing student performance. 

"In order to make this grading process as successful as possible Government must outline how schools and colleges will be supported to ensure staff have the necessary time to engage with it properly, in a way which does not increase workload. 

"It is also important that no student is disadvantaged on the basis of the qualification they are taking and we will continue to relay members’ experiences with the process laid out to ensure Government, Ofqual and awarding bodies are facilitating parity between vocational and technical qualifications, GCSEs and A-Levels."