Response to OFQUAL/DfE consultation on proposals for exams 2021

Posted by rsl11 at Dec 31, 2020 12:00 AM |
This response to the consultation is on behalf of the National Association for the Teaching of English, and is endorsed by the English Association and the National Association of Advisers in English.

NATE logoNAAE logoEA logoThe response was prepared by the past NATE Chair (formerly Principal Examiner and Principal Moderator for a major AB, and consultant to two other ABs; University teacher trainer and writer for the BBC, The Globe Theatre, Oxford UP, Cambridge UP, Collins and Heinemann.)

It was discussed and approved by the NATE Trustees and Development Team, and by the EA and NAAAE.

The aim of the submission is to support OFQUAL and the DfE in their commitment to making GCSE grades in 2021 secure, fair and of service to all stakeholders. There are three specific aspects to this aim:

a) to provide secure professional organisational purpose and subject-specific focus for teachers

b) to provide the essentials of motivation and a sense of agency in youngsters’ education and life beyond it

c) to provide public confidence among all stakeholders within education and outside it

Additionally, the submission aims to do more than plug a gap or apply a plaster to a wound: it aims to create some positive educational gains out of undesirable circumstances, and to make these gains part of a revised assessment model to outlast those circumstances.

Part One: General response to proposals discussed and on PP 15th January

Overview of proposals

1 The Associations represented in this submission firmly endorse the proposal that students’ grades be based on teachers’ assessments, provided that the work assessed is broadly consistent in nature across all schools, and that internally-assessed work is submitted for a sample external moderation procedure.

2 We welcome the role proposed for Awarding Bodies in preparing assessment materials, providing guidance on assessment and undertaking sample moderation. This is in confidence that the Awarding Bodies have extensive and successful experience in all these areas.

3 Reference to drawing on “a range of broader evidence” of attainment should be removed as it is likely to result in inconsistency across and within schools, and that it will be neither possible nor desirable to devise secure descriptors for the likely diversity of evidence and time allowed.

What the grades will mean

4 We agree that qualification grades should indicate the three elements of what a student knows, understands and can do, and that assessment of these should represent actual attainment not potential or what might have been achieved under other circumstances.

5 We agree that the interests of students whose education has been disrupted will be best served by being engaged fully, and being taught for as long as possible. However, we advise that coverage of the curriculum should be “as much as necessary to demonstrate the relevant knowledge, understanding and skills”, rather than “as much as possible”.

How teachers should determine

6 We consider that the terms “grades they submit”, “submitted grades” and “grade to be submitted” should be removed throughout.  Grades are only ever arrived at after Awards meetings have established mark boundaries. What centres submit should be component marks. It is important that candidates, parents and public are aware of this, and that any grades submitted by a school are predicted grades as at present.

Other performance evidence

7 We consider that “other sources of performance evidence” such as formal tests and mock exams should not be additionally undertaken as they will increase workload and be, in any case, superseded by common assessment tasks prepared by Awarding Bodies. We advise removal of the statement that “Substantial candidate work…” be eligible as evidence as substantiality will not be commonly agreed or criterion-focused.

Supporting teachers

8 We welcome the proposal that Awarding Bodies provide support materials, including exemplars, assessment guidance, definitions of “performance evidence and best practice in avoiding bias and discrimination”.

Internal QA

9 We welcome the professional training proposed for internal standardisation arrangements but advise that these arrangements be focused on standardising marks for components, and that the reference to “signing off grades submitted by teachers” be removed. Teachers may make estimated grades, but should not be encouraged to believe they are awarding grades. The award of grades must be the responsibility of the Awarding Bodies following moderation of a school’s sample.

External QA

10 We agree that Awarding Bodies should sample evidence at subject level.

11 We would appreciate greater clarity in relation to “All schools….. could be subject to further checks.”

12 We strongly advise that the statement that Awarding Bodies “could only change submitted grades after a review of the evidence and following discussion with the school or college” be withdrawn for reasons given above.


13 We agree that it is fair and reasonable that there should be a Post-Results appeals arrangement, However, it should not involve schools unless it is for a check for clerical errors. Schools will be too busy to deal with these in the time-frame, and will not relish taking part of the responsibility for a process whose final determination was by the Awarding Bodies.


These responses are specifically related to the proposals, and in the topic sequence as published.

The following recommendations are additional, and are illustrative of the suggestions made in the previous submission to OFQUAL, The English Subject Associations’ view of the 2021 GCSE Examinations: A joint statement by NATE, EA and the NAAE

Part Two: Specific proposals for GCSE English Literature

We propose that grades awarded are based on common Centre-Assessed Learning Modules

In English Literature, a consistent national evidence base can be provided by a portfolio of three tasks, each completed in a lesson in an hour*, covering prescribed texts in Prose, Poetry and Shakespeare. These three tasks should allow centre-selected options from a list provided by ABs, be marked by teachers according to a provided mark-scheme, and the aggregate score submitted (e.g. 3 X 20 marks) to the AB. For candidates who do not complete all three tasks, the final mark will be pro-rata (e.g. 2 completed, total reduced by one third).

*or completed at home if not able to attend school

A possible optional final module

Some students may, for various reasons, miss one or all of the CALMs. In this case, it is worth considering an optional final exam with three questions, allowing candidates to answer the one, two or three they may have missed. This would have the additional merit of allowing for candidates whose personal strengths may be best demonstrated in centre-assessed increments or in final performance.


Moderation would be on the basis of a sample selected by the AB and representing one tenth of the entry. ABs have long experience in moderating centre-assessed work. The difficulty in the time available would be in providing standardising exemplars for teachers to benchmark their assessments.


Teachers’ workload can be reduced by making the tasks generic, so that teachers’/centres’ choice of texts from published lists can be varied across classes if necessary, and include texts already studied.

AQA successfully piloted examination generic questions in papers produced in the 90s, so there is an available bank of suitable material, as well as current models at A level (e.g. OCR Language and Literature).

NB Whilst there is an opportunity in the circumstances to support students in assessed tasks by making the studied texts available during the assessment, this is likely to make completion longer than an hour. Also, schools have established closed-book response conditions, making memory-based responses more appropriate.


Part Three: tasks for Centre-Assessed Learning Modules (Literature)

Assessment Objectives

AO1: Read, understand and respond to texts. Students should be able to:

maintain a critical style and develop an informed personal response

use textual references, including quotations, to support and illustrate interpretations.

AO2: Analyse the language, form and structure used by a writer to create meanings and effects, using

relevant subject terminology where appropriate.

AO3: Show understanding of the relationships between texts and the contexts in which they were written.

AO4: Use a range of vocabulary and sentence structures for clarity, purpose and effect, with accurate spelling and punctuation.

We are aware that there has been a pattern of increased consistency and conformity in question setting, resulting in a predictable formula of addressing Assessment Objectives:

“How does [Author] present [Theme/character/event] in [Named text].

This may be a serviceable model for standardised text-specific tasks or for generic tasks but there is an opportunity here to vary the format and focus of assessment tasks to meet the Assessment Objectives.


Generic questions for Centre-Assessed Learning Modules (Literature)

These are illustrative rather than drawn from tested and used papers. It may be advisable to add supporting bullets such as:

* support your comments with relevant textual detail

* quotations do not have to be exactly recalled

* apply any knowledge you have gained from specialist literary study

A. Prose


Explain why two settings from the novel you have studied are shown to be important to a character or to the story as a whole.

Write about the way the writer makes physical or social settings interesting for the reader.

Character and Characterisation

How does the writer of the novel you have studied show the difficult choices faced by a character or a group of characters?

How does the writer create positive or negative feelings in the reader by what characters say and do?


Write about the ways the writer uses some minor characters to convey themes and ideas in the novel you have studied.

How does the writer convey ideas about the causes and effects of conflict in the novel you have studied?


Show how the writer of the novel you have studied develops aspects of a theme or the plot by reference to three episodes throughout the text.

How does the writer of the novel you have studied show characters’ feelings in a) the narrative and b) dialogue.


How does the writer of the novel you have studied influence your understanding of a character in the narrative and in dialogue? Which do you think influences you more?

What do you consider to be the most effective uses of language by the writer of the text you have studied?

B. Poetry (variety, craft, response)

NB some of these are attempts to draw more personal responses than formulaic lists of identified features.

Of all the poems you have studied, which two would you recommend to next year’s Year 11 students, and why?

Explore the ways in which your experience or your ideas have matched or conflicted with what you have read in two poems.

Write about the ways that two poems you have read by different writers have influenced your thoughts or feelings by their use of language.

Explain how two poems by different writers have made effective use of form and structure.

Explore the ways that two poets have approached a similar theme in different ways.

What do you find distinctive in the thought and style of two poets you have studied?

Explain why you prefer either of two poems you have studied on a similar topic, or in a similar form.

Show how the writers of two poems have used language in an interesting way.

Write about the ways in which two poets have presented an important personal experience or strong feelings.

Choose two poems on a similar theme. Explain which poem you prefer and why another person may prefer the other.


C. Shakespeare (complexity, craft, performance and response)

NB Some of these are attempts to engage students with aspects of text as performance.

Show how Shakespeare has made a main character someone you admire and do not admire at different points in the play.

Show how Shakespeare brings out different aspects of a main character in two different parts of the play.

Explored the ways in which two minor characters are used by Shakespeare to develop the plot or convey ideas.

How does Shakespeare convey the different moods of a character by his use of language?

Explain how two characters in the play you have studied are presented as similar or different.

If you were directing the play you have studied, how would you advise the actors to perform a short section of about twenty lines.

Explain the way that two film or stage performances have interpreted the text in different ways.

How does Shakespeare show a character changing or developing from the start of a play to its end?

“Shakespeare’s heroes have flaws and his villains have qualities”. How far do you think this is true of a main character in the Shakespeare play you have studied?

Write about the way Shakespeare’s writing developed your understanding of a main character in the course of the play you studied.


Part 4: Centre-Assessed Learning Modules (Language)

Assessment Objectives


AO1: identify and interpret explicit and implicit information and ideas

select and synthesise evidence from different texts

AO2: Explain, comment on and analyse how writers use language and structure to achieve effects and

influence readers, using relevant subject terminology to support their views

AO3: Compare writers’ ideas and perspectives, as well as how these are conveyed, across two or more


AO4: Evaluate texts critically and support this with appropriate textual references


AO5: Communicate clearly, effectively and imaginatively, selecting and adapting tone, style and register

for different forms, purposes and audiences. Organise information and ideas, using structural and

grammatical features to support coherence and cohesion of texts

AO6: Candidates must use a range of vocabulary and sentence structures for clarity, purpose and effect,

with accurate spelling and punctuation. (This requirement must constitute 20% of the marks for each

specification as a whole.)

We propose two tasks from a selection provided by ABs, one for Reading and one for Writing, both to be completed within an hour in class.

Reading (15 mins reading/preparation & 45 mins written response)

Two pre-released articles presenting differing responses to a topic and available at the beginning of the week in which assessment takes place.

Sample tasks (Language)

Write about the similarities and differences in these two articles.

You should consider:

  • feelings, attitudes and ideas
  • audience and purpose
  • use of language

Compare the ways the writers of these two articles present their information to appeal to readers.

You should consider:

  • organisation and presentation
  • audience and purpose
  • use of language

Writing (1 hour)

Discursive, descriptive or narrative writing:

Write for a magazine on one of the following subjects.

Remember to:

  • select vocabulary matched to topic, purpose and audience
  • organise writing into varied sentence forms and purposeful paragraphs
  • use punctuation to clarify and enhance meaning
  • What I shall always remember about my schooldays.
  • My advice for keeping calm in difficult times.
  • What older generations need to understand.
  • Produce a piece of descriptive or narrative writing inspired by a character or event in one of the stories you have studied.
  • What the inside of my wardrobe says about me.
  • Write a story ending with the sentence “And I decided, ‘Never again!’”

A possible optional final module

There could also be, for students who for various reasons may have missed any of the CALMs, an optional final exam with two questions, a fall-back allowing selection of the task or tasks missed. This would allow for strengths of centre-assessed incremental development or of final performance to be reflected in a potential mix.



The main responsibility for operational success in 2021 will be with the Awarding Bodies, who have the key personnel and systems available for supporting schools, and managing task-setting and moderation. NATE, EA and NAAE are grateful for this opportunity to contribute to such an important consultation and are ready to contribute further from their collective stock of expertise, by working with the Awarding Bodies or in reviewing procedures as they develop.


Peter Thomas (Past Chair, NATE)

Rachel Roberts (Chair, NATE)

Rob Penman (Chair, EA)

Nikki Copitch (Secretary, NAAE)

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