Regulating GCSEs, AS and A levels: guide for schools and colleges
A guide for teachers on the responsibilities of exam boards and schools and colleges.
Students in England take around 5 million GCSEs, 1 million AS and 800,000 A levels every year.
Schools and colleges have a key role in making the qualifications system work.
This guide explains how Ofqual regulates the exam boards that provide GCSEs, AS and A level xqualifications, what schools and colleges can expect from exam boards and what exam boards, in turn, expect from schools and colleges. It covers:
- GCSEs, AS and A levels and their assessment (this guide does not refer to other qualifications which might be taken as alternatives)
- reviews of marking and reviews of moderation (previously known as EARs), and appeals
- the changes exam boards make or allow to be made to assessments and the way they are taken for disabled students (reasonable adjustments)
- the support exam boards give to students who are disadvantaged when taking an assessment by illness, injury or something else outside their control (special consideration)
- maladministration, malpractice, cheating and exam fraud
The guide includes links to other documents that include more detail about how the qualifications and exam systems work. It does not detail all the requirements we place on exam boards and it does not have any regulatory status. The regulations with which exam boards must comply can be found on our website.
We do not regulate schools or colleges and so we do not place any requirements directly on them. In light of the key role schools and colleges play in making sure the qualifications system works effectively and fairly, some of the regulations we place on the exam boards affect the way they must interact with schools and colleges and the obligations exam boards place on them.
We have recognised 4 exam boards to award GCSEs, AS and A level qualifications:
Information about their ways of working and about their qualifications can be found on their websites. For some aspects of the qualification system, the exam boards adopt common ways of working. This makes it easier for schools and colleges and can help secure a qualification system that is fair to all, regardless of the exam board used. When the exam boards work together in this way they generally do so through the Joint Council of Qualifications (JCQ), their membership body. This guide should be read alongside more detailed documents published by the exam boards and JCQ. We have included links in this guide to relevant JCQ documents.
This guide covers both the reformed and legacy versions of the qualifications. It includes information on when the reformed qualifications are being introduced.
GCSEs, AS and A levels
Exam boards develop and award GCSEs, AS and A levels. The content for these qualifications is prepared and published by the government.
We set rules for each of these qualifications with which exam boards must comply. These are general conditions that apply to all regulated qualifications, qualification level conditions (that are specific to GCSEs or to AS and A levels) and subject level conditions (that are specific to a qualification in a subject). They include rules on how the qualifications must be assessed. The rules are published on the section of our website called ‘understand our regulations’.
Exam boards can only award these qualifications if we have accredited them. We only accredit qualifications when we are confident the exam board has demonstrated it can comply with the requirements for the qualification on an on-going basis.
Exam boards are required to publish a specification for each qualification. The specification must set out a range of information, including:
- The knowledge, skills and understanding which will be assessed, giving a clear indication of their coverage and depth.
- How it will be assessed.
- How it will be graded.
- Any sample assessment materials and their mark schemes.
When they are developing new qualifications, exam boards usually publish a draft version of the specification on their website. An exam board may also publish draft sample assessments materials and mark schemes.
The drafts might not reflect the final versions, as changes may be required before we accredit them. Schools and colleges should be aware that draft specifications can change before the qualification is accredited, but the drafts do give an indication of the approach the exam board is intending to take.
We do not set rules on how exam boards handle entries from schools and colleges. They have their own arrangements and set their entry deadlines.
We know that schools and colleges are most likely to consider switching exam boards when new qualifications are introduced. This can make it particularly difficult for exam boards to predict how many students will be taking their assessments and how many markers they will need. To help them with their planning, the exam boards may ask schools and colleges for early indications of their expected entries. We encourage schools and colleges to give exam boards this information as this should help the system run efficiently and effectively.
GCSEs, AS and A levels are assessed by exam, except where there are essential skills in a subject that can only be assessed using non-exam assessment. We set a number of requirements with which exam boards must comply when developing, delivering and marking exams and non-exam assessments. For example, they must design assessments that assess the specified content of the qualifications and be of an appropriate level of demand. Any optional routes must be of a comparable level of demand and the exams should be designed, as far as possible, to be equally demanding year on year.
Exam papers are written well in advance; for some papers the process can start 2 years before students sit the exam. Exam boards take into account how well previous years’ assessments worked when developing papers.
Exam boards have flexibility to determine their own processes, but the outcome must meet the full range of requirements that apply to all assessments and to those for assessments for each particular qualification type and subject.
Exam boards must make sure schools and colleges have the information they need to administer the exams at the right time and under the right conditions, and that they take particular care to protect the confidentiality of the exams.
We require exam boards to have written and enforceable agreements with schools and colleges that deliver any part of their qualifications, including administering exams and other assessments. The agreements must cover a number of provisions, including that the school or college:
- must assist the exam board when it undertakes monitoring
- has a workforce that can deliver the qualification as the exam board requires
- operates a complaints procedure for students
The full range of provisions we require exam boards to cover in their agreements with schools and colleges is set out in condition C2 of our ‘General Conditions of Recognition’.
JCQ has produced some instructions for schools and colleges for conducting examinations. This is a comprehensive guide to what schools or colleges must do to administer the exams properly, as well as some helpful tips for making sure that the exams go smoothly. It covers a range of requirements the exam boards place on schools and colleges, including:
- how exam papers must be stored
- checks which must be performed when the papers are delivered
- who should be present to supervise opening of papers
- starting times for exams
- supervision of candidates who take exams earlier or later than timetabled
- using calculators
- using other resources, such as dictionaries
- conditions, equipment and seating arrangements in the exam room
- invigilation arrangements
- what you must do at the start of the examination, including identifying candidates
- starting the exam
- how to supervise during the exam
- what to do when a candidate is late
- completing an attendance register
- what do to in the event of emergencies
- ending the exam and packing away
- sending the scripts back to the exam board
Exam boards check that schools and colleges are following their instructions, including through visits carried out by JCQ’s centre inspection service. We require exam boards to have a sanctions policy that they apply when a school or college is found to have breached its requirements. Possible sanctions include additional monitoring visits, the deployment of exam board invigilators and stopping a school or college offering some or all of its qualifications. The JCQ publishes guidance setting out how exam boards investigate potential malpractice and the sanctions they may impose when malpractice is confirmed.
We will not normally be involved with the investigation. If a school or college is dissatisfied with the way an exam board has conducted such an investigation or with any sanctions applied it should complain or appeal to the exam board. We will usually only consider a complaint once the exam board’s own complaints and appeals procedures have been exhausted.
Many of the issues which exam boards notify us about, and which exam boards investigate, appear to result from poor practice or maladministration rather than acts of deliberate wrong doing. For example, when the wrong exam papers are given to students at the wrong time. These incidents must be reported to the exam board as soon as they are discovered. Schools and colleges must comply with the instructions they are given by their exam boards to reduce the risk of these errors occurring, such as 2 people being present when the papers are opened.
Where a mistake like this is made it can be difficult to prevent the affected students being disadvantaged. For example, they might find themselves taking an exam they were not expecting that day, and for which they were not fully prepared. Their marks for a qualification might have to be estimated if they could not then take the exam they should have taken, because, for example, they had been in contact with other students who had taken the correct exam.
At the end of an exam, schools and colleges must also carefully follow the instructions from each exam board on how to return the scripts for marking.
Reporting concerns about exam administration within a school or college
Anyone who works in a school or college should report any concerns they have about the administration of an exam to the relevant exam board or to Ofqual. Concerns can be reported to us under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998. This is also known as whistleblowing. In certain circumstances, this can provide protection when a person discloses concerns about practice where they work. We have a whistleblowing policy and a form for reporting concerns on our website. You can find out more about whistleblowing from Public Concern at Work.
Reporting an error in an exam paper
If a school or college believes there is an error in an exam paper, including in any modified papers, it should contact the relevant exam board immediately. Exam boards will consider whether an error has been made and, if it has, the potential impact of the error on students. They consider, for example, whether the error will have stopped students being able to answer the question or complete the task or whether students’ performance in other questions might have been affected by the error. They then decide the fairest way to proceed. This might include carrying out statistical analysis to see whether the question performed as expected or awarding all students full marks for the question.
We take question paper errors seriously. We consider whether an exam board’s planned action is appropriate and fair and we may require it to take particular steps to address the impact of the error on students. We also consider whether to take any regulatory action when exam boards fail to meet our expectations.
We require exam boards to have effective arrangements in place to make sure mark schemes are understood by markers and are being applied accurately and consistently.
Exam boards have their own ways of meeting this rule. Their approaches often depend on whether scripts are marked on paper or electronically (on-screen), as well as whether they are marked by question or as a whole paper.
Where marking is carried out on-screen, exam boards check on an on-going basis the accuracy of each marker’s marking, often by including in their marking allocation ‘seed’ items (selected responses to one or more questions). Senior markers will already have agreed a mark for the ‘seed’ item and determined how much variation they think is acceptable (a marking tolerance). Markers do not know which items are ‘seeds’. If markers award a mark for a seed item which is outside the set tolerance, the marker can be stopped from marking, until they have undertaken further training. The marking they have already completed might be remarked or adjusted. They might be stopped permanently from marking.
Where marking is carried out on paper, markers send samples of their marking to a more senior marker for checking. If a marker is not marking to the required standard, the marker can be stopped from marking. They might be required to undertake further training or be stopped permanently from marking. The marking they have already completed might be remarked or adjusted.
A school or college that wants to understand how a particular exam board quality assures its marking should look on the exam board’s website for information or contact the board.
The great majority of markers are current or retired teachers (our survey of 10,000 examiners in 2013 found that over 99% were teachers or former teachers). The exam boards recruit markers every year and look for ways to encourage teachers to become markers. Teachers who become markers often find that they enjoy it and notice the benefits it can have on their teaching. Teachers who are interested in becoming markers should contact the exam boards. JCQ publish information on the role of an examiner..
Non exam assessment
Not all skills and knowledge can be assessed through exams. Where this is not possible exam boards test these skills and knowledge through non-exam assessments. In GCSEs, AS and A levels that have not been reformed, non-exam assessment is generally described as controlled assessment or coursework.
Some non-exam assessment is marked by teachers in the student’s school or college; some is marked by visiting examiners, or sent to the exam board for marking.
For all reformed GCSEs, AS and A levels we have set out what percentage of the total marks will come from non-exam assessments. Unless this is prescribed in our rules, exam boards decide how many tasks students have to complete and which assessment objectives the tasks will cover. For some subjects we have prescribed the earliest date by which the tasks to be completed by students can be provided to teachers and to students. Exam boards must comply with any such date restrictions.
Exam boards must make sure all assessors, including teachers who are marking their own students’ work, understand how they must mark and that marking is done accurately and consistently.
Each exam board will provide its own instructions on how the non-exam assessments must be undertaken. JCQ has also published detailed guidance about how the exam boards operate their non-exam assessments and what is expected of schools and colleges. JCQ also has guidance on the conduct of coursework.
Exam boards check whether their rules are properly followed. They have different ways of doing so, including through general centre-inspection visits, subject-targeted visits and statistical monitoring (which enables them to identify marks for non-exam assessments that appear out of line with students’ performance in their exams for the subject).
We require exam boards to take all reasonable steps to prevent malpractice and maladministration occurring, including in the way non-exam assessments are undertaken, supervised and marked. We require exam boards to investigate any suspicions or allegations of malpractice or maladministration. We also require exam boards to keep under review what schools and colleges do to prevent and investigate malpractice and maladministration. Exam boards must take action against those responsible for malpractice or maladministration.
Separate reporting of non-exam assessment results
For some of the reformed qualifications, students’ performance in their non-exam assessment is reported in a grade or outcome that is separate to that for the exam assessments for the qualification. This is the case for GCSE English language, for which the outcome of the spoken language assessment is reported separately to the grade for the exams. In A level science qualifications, students’ performance in their practical science assessment is also reported separately to the grade for the exams.
Exam boards must moderate (or monitor, for qualifications where non-exam assessment is reported separately) any assessments marked within the school or college (internally marked assessment) to make sure marking has been undertaken accurately and consistently between teachers across all schools and colleges. Schools and colleges must comply with the exam boards’ moderation requirements.
An exam board must adjust the marks given to internally marked assessment where they find that marking is out of line with the required standard.
Once the work of most students has been marked, grade boundaries are set. All exam boards must set grade boundaries according to our rules.
The basic principle that exam boards follow when setting grade boundaries is that if the group of students (the cohort) taking a qualification in one year is of similar ability to the cohort in the previous year then the overall results (outcomes) should be comparable. This is a longstanding principle that exam boards have used for decades.
For AS and A level, exam boards use predictions based on the prior attainment at GCSE of the current year’s cohort. For GCSE, they use predictions based on the prior achievement at key stage 2 of the current year’s cohort. Predictions are used to guide decisions on the key grade boundaries.
Other evidence is also considered, including:
- students’ work (marked exam papers and controlled or non-exam assessment) from the current and previous years
- reports from senior examiners and moderators about how the exam questions worked
When new qualifications are introduced, it is usual to see a dip in performance, as schools and colleges get used to new content, or new styles of assessment. The use of predictions to guide awarding decisions helps to make sure students are not disadvantaged by being the first to sit a new qualification. For this reason, we require exam board to place particular emphasis on predictions in the first year of awarding a new GCSE, AS or A level. It also means that we can judge whether the grade standards are in line across exam boards.
The predictions are used to guide awarding decisions at national level and not to predict the grades for individual students.
Before any results are issued, exam boards share the outcomes of their awards with Ofqual. Exam boards must provide evidence to justify any circumstances where the expected results are markedly different from the predictions. We consider that evidence according to a published process. We will either accept the explanation provided by exam boards or challenge the results if the argument is not backed by sufficient evidence.
While national results may remain steady from one year to the next, we know that schools and colleges can see variability in their year-on-year results, even when qualifications don’t change. When qualifications do change, schools and colleges are more likely to see variations in their results. We have published information on this in recent years (for example, see ‘Variability in GCSE results: 2012 to 2015’ and our June 2017 letter to schools).
Reviews of marking, reviews of moderation and appeals
Each exam board must, on request, review whether there were any errors in the original marking of an assessment, or in the moderation of a teacher-marked assessment. They must also allow appeals of decisions made in these reviews.
The relevant qualification level conditions set out the way exam boards must undertake reviews of marking, reviews of moderation, and appeals. Almost all of these conditions will apply for reviews of marking and moderation and for appeals in respect of the qualifications awarded in 2017; some of the new conditions won’t come fully into force until 2018 or later.
Who can ask an exam board for a review or an appeal?
Ofqual sets no requirements about who can request a review of marking, review of moderation or appeal.
We recognise the value in schools and colleges advising their students on whether they should formally question their marks. We do not, therefore, require exam boards to accept requests directly from students.
However, exam boards can decide whether and, if so, in what circumstances, they will accept requests directly from individual students. Each exam board will decide whether to do so, either in all cases or on an exceptional basis.
If an exam board only accepts requests from schools or colleges, and not those made directly by students, the exam board must make sure the school or college gives a student an opportunity to appeal against the school’s or college’s decision not to ask for a review or to appeal.
Reviews of exam board marked assessments
When requested to do so, an exam board must arrange for a reviewer to consider whether the original marker made any errors when marking an assessment. Reviewers must be specifically trained to undertake reviews, as the process of reviewing the way a question or a paper has been marked is different to marking the question or paper afresh. Exam boards must also monitor the way reviewers undertake reviews, to assure themselves reviewers are complying with the conditions and are acting consistently.
The exam board must publish its deadlines for receiving requests for reviews and its fees. It must also publish its target turnaround times.
A reviewer must:
- consider the original marking.
- decide whether there were any administrative errors in the marking. An administrative error typically occurs when a marker misses a question or does not properly total the marks for all questions. If any such errors (however large or small) are found they must be corrected and the grade adjusted if necessary.
- Check, for each task or question for which there was only 1 possible right answer and therefore mark, whether the right mark was given for the student’s answer. If the marker made an error when marking any such questions the reviewer must remark the question (however large or small the error). The new mark replaces the original one.
- Decide, for questions or tasks for which a range of responses can earn credit, whether the original mark could have been given by a marker who properly applied the mark scheme to the answer and exercised his or her academic judgement in a reasonable way. An error is likely to have been made if the reviewer concludes:
- that the original mark was unduly lenient or harsh, given the correct application of the mark scheme
- a marker who had the appropriate subject knowledge and who had been trained to use the mark scheme would have been acting unreasonably in giving the mark
- there was no rational basis for the mark
- Re-mark the questions in respect of which the errors were made - however large or small the effect of the error.
If the reviewer finds a marking error, the reviewer’s mark will replace the original mark and the exam board must change the grade if necessary. Any new mark and grade awarded after the review could be higher or lower than that originally given. If the reviewer does not find a marking error the original mark must not be changed. The exam board must tell the school, college or individual student (where the request was accepted from an individual) the outcome of the review.
If the review raises questions about the accuracy of other students’ results the exam board may choose to extend the review to other students’ papers. If it finds errors in the marking of those students’ papers, they may replace the original mark, and the grade if necessary. Any new mark and grade awarded after the review could be higher or lower than that originally given.
Providing reasons for the outcome of a review
A school or college (or student, where the exam boards accepted a request from an individual) can ask the exam board to give reasons for the outcome of a review. The exam board must provide the reasons on request. Because the turnaround time for reviews can be important for a student’s progression, we do not currently require exam boards to provide reasons at the same time as they communicate the outcome, as this might delay the outcome being communicated.
From 2020, we will require exam boards to provide reasons automatically (rather than waiting for a school or college to request them), but some exam boards may start providing reasons automatically sooner. An appeal can be made before the exam board provides reasons.
A mark will only change where the reviewer found the original marker made a marking error. In most cases, where the mark has not been changed on review, the reason will be that the reviewer found no marking error. An exam board might choose to communicate this when it provides the outcome of the review.
Occasionally, a reviewer might find 2 or more different errors on review which, when corrected, result in no overall mark change (they cancel each other out). Exam boards must provide reasons for this, if requested to do so (unless they provide the reason when they communicate the outcome of the review).
Exam boards will have their own ways of providing reasons for review outcomes on request.
Students requests for a review of teacher-marked (internal) assessment
Exam boards currently require schools and colleges to provide an opportunity for students to appeal to them about teacher-marked (internal) assessments that contribute to a GCSE, AS or A level.
From summer 2018, we are strengthening our rules in this area, making this current exam board practice mandatory. We will also introduce rules about how these reviews should be conducted at the same time.
Reviews of exam board moderation
A school or college can ask for the outcome of an exam board’s moderation to be reviewed by the exam board. The request must be made on behalf of the whole of the school or college’s cohort for that component. The exam board must publish its deadline for receiving such requests and its fees.
The reviewer must consider whether the moderator made any errors. As with exam marking, an error is likely to have been made if the reviewer concludes that:
- the moderator was unduly lenient or harsh.
- a moderator who had the appropriate subject knowledge and who had been trained to moderate the assessment would have been acting unreasonably in giving the moderation outcome.
- there was no rational basis for the moderation outcome.
If the reviewer does not find a moderation error the outcome must not be changed. If the reviewer finds there was an error, the reviewer must re-moderate the teacher’s marking and adjust the marks appropriately. The exam board will normally adjust the grades where necessary.
Currently, if a review of moderation finds that a student had been given a grade that was too high, the grade will not be reduced. There is no equivalent protection of a grade that is too high when such an error is found in other circumstances, and we intend to withdraw this automatic protection in due course. We will announce when the protection is removed.
Timelines for reviews and appeals
Each exam board must set and publish its own timelines, including the deadlines by which requests for a review or an appeal must be received. The exam boards have set common deadlines for 2017.
Our rules do not specify set dates for the completion of reviews and appeals, but do set out minimum timescales that exam boards must meet. These ensure common, minimum timelines for students, schools and colleges.
Exam boards can charge a fee for reviewing a mark and for considering an appeal. They have to publish the fees they will charge, and be clear about any circumstances in which they will not charge.
Access to marked scripts
Schools and colleges can ask exam boards to give them access to marked AS and A levels scripts. Exam boards set a deadline for the receipt of requests for returned scripts. When asked by a school or college to do so, by their deadline, they must provide a copy of the student’s marked script in time for the school or college to decide whether to ask for the marking to be reviewed. Where a school or college wants a review completed quickly, due to the timescales imposed by university admissions arrangements, an exam board may offer a different approach. This is a well-established practice. Exam boards may charge for this service.
From summer 2020, exam boards will have to make GCSE scripts available (or request) before their deadline for requesting a review of marking. Some exam boards intend to do this sooner.
Exam boards must make mark schemes available before the deadline for schools and colleges deciding whether to request a review of marking of the corresponding assessments.
If a school or college remains concerned about an outcome following a review, it can appeal to the exam board. Appeals can be on the grounds that:
- an exam board did not apply its procedures consistently or that procedures were not followed properly and fairly
- in AS and A levels (as well as project qualifications), but not GCSEs, there was an error in the original marking or moderation, or in the review of that marking or moderation - i.e. that
- an administrative error (such as adding up marks incorrectly) had not been corrected
- the mark scheme was not properly applied
- the mark could not have been given by a trained marker, who had appropriate subject knowledge, and who had exercised their academic judgement in a reasonable way
This second ground for appeal is new for 2017, and will be rolled out to some GCSEs in 2018, and to the rest in 2019.
Appeals can also be made in respect of:
- Decisions regarding requests for reasonable adjustments and special consideration.
- Decisions regarding actions taken following an investigation into malpractice or maladministration.
The setting of a grade boundary cannot be the subject of an appeal.
An exam board must make sure that those making appeal decisions are competent to do so, have no personal interest in the outcome, and were not involved in the original marking or moderation or the review of the marking or moderation. The final decision must involve at least 1 decision maker who is not connected to the exam board.
An exam board may choose to offer the school or college (or individual student whose appeal was accepted by the exam board) the opportunity to attempt to resolve the disagreement without the need for a full and formal appeal hearing. This may be welcomed as a potentially quicker and cheaper option, but we do not require that this approach is offered and the opportunity for a full appeal must remain available.
Each exam board must publish its appeal arrangements (including any requirements for submitting an appeal), its fees and deadlines.
The exam procedure review service
Schools and colleges who, having exhausted the exam board’s appeals process, are still unhappy with the result can ask Ofqual to review the case through the exam procedure review service (EPRS).
Diagram of the review and appeals system
Reasonable adjustments for disabled students
What are reasonable adjustments
Reasonable adjustments are changes made to an assessment or to the way an assessment is conducted that reduce or remove a disadvantage caused by a student’s disability. They are needed because some disabilities can make it harder for students to show what they know and can do in an assessment than it would have been had the student not been disabled.
What exam boards must do
The Equality Act 2010 requires exam boards to make reasonable adjustments to assessments for disabled students. We require exam boards to publish their arrangements for making reasonable adjustments, including how a student qualifies for a reasonable adjustment and what reasonable adjustments will be made.
We have the power under the Equality Act to lift the duty on exam boards to make reasonable adjustments in some cases. The way we have exercised this power is set out in our specifications.
Exam boards only have to make a reasonable adjustment to an assessment if the student’s disability makes it substantially harder for them to show what they know, understand and can do in that assessment.
What ‘disabled’ or ‘disability’ means
The Equality Act 2010 defines disability as:
a physical or mental impairment … [that] has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on [their] ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.
A short-term illness or temporary injury is not a disability. So a student who is temporarily ill or injured isn’t entitled to reasonable adjustments. But there may be other adjustments available for them.
What reasonable adjustments are available?
Exam boards can make a wide range of adjustments to their assessments. Some of the most common adjustments are:
- changes to assessment materials (for example, large print or braille exam papers)
- access to assistive software (for example, voice recognition systems or computer readers)
- help with specific tasks (for example, another person might read questions to the student or write their dictated answers)
- changes to how the assessment is done (for example, an oral rather than a written assessment, word-processing rather than hand-writing answers)
- extra time to complete assessments
- exemptions from an assessment
This is not an exhaustive list – other adjustments may be available, depending on the student’s needs – and not all of these adjustments will be reasonable in all cases.
What adjustments a student will get
It is important to understand that the adjustments for an individual student will depend on how – and how much – their disability affects them when taking a particular assessment. That means:
- different students with the same disability won’t always get the same adjustments
- the same student might get different adjustments for different assessments
- if a student’s disability doesn’t affect how well they can do an assessment, then they won’t get any adjustments
The exam board has to decide, based on each student’s individual circumstances, which (if any) adjustments are reasonable. Factors they should consider when making that decision include:
- Whether our rules about reasonable adjustments in assessments mean they cannot offer a particular adjustment.
- How (and how much) a student’s disability affects their ability to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding.
- How well an adjustment helps a student deal with the difficulties their disability causes when taking their assessment. An adjustment that works well is more likely to be reasonable than one that doesn’t really help.
- How much the adjustment would cost. A more expensive adjustment is less likely to be reasonable than a cheaper one.
- How difficult it is to make the adjustment. A complicated adjustment is less likely to be reasonable than a straightforward one.
- Whether (and how much) the adjustment could compromise the validity of the assessment. An adjustment that gives a disabled person an unfair advantage probably isn’t reasonable.
- Whether the adjustment would break any of our other rules. If our rules require exams, then another form of assessment is unlikely to be reasonable, but other adjustments (such as dictating answers to a scribe or using speech recognition tools) are likely to be reasonable.
The role of schools and colleges
Schools and colleges apply for reasonable adjustments on behalf of their students. To show that a student is eligible for a reasonable adjustment, they need to show that:
- the student is disabled
- their disability would significantly disadvantage them in the assessment
Schools and colleges must also set out the adjustments the student needs. The student’s normal way of working is likely to be particularly relevant when coming to that view.
A school or college that is unsure what adjustments might be appropriate for a particular disabled student should discuss their needs with the exam board as early as possible. The exam board will be able to provide advice about the different adjustments that are available, and the evidence that will be needed to support the application. Some adjustments take time to arrange, and early notice helps the exam board provide the adjustment in time.
Schools and colleges are responsible for making sure that any adjustments agreed with the exam board are put in place and are used properly when students take their assessments.
How to apply
The JCQ provides more information about applying for reasonable adjustments.
If a school or college does not agree with an exam board’s decision
An exam board should explain why it has decided not to give a student an adjustment or to give them a different adjustment to that requested. Our rules also mean they must have a process for appealing that decision. If a school or college does not agree with the exam board’s decision, it should follow that process. We will usually only consider complaints about an exam board once the appeal has been concluded.
We do not have powers to investigate complaints or disputes about whether exam boards have breached equality law. We cannot, for example, determine whether an exam board has discriminated against a disabled student. However, an exam board that was found to have breached equality law may also have breached its conditions, enabling us to take regulatory action.
Complaints about whether an exam board has breached equality law should be made to the Equality and Human Rights Commission. The matter might also be taken to court. A school or college might want to get legal advice or contact the Equality Advisory and Support Service first.
What is a special consideration?
Our rules define special consideration as any special treatment given to a student who has temporarily experienced an illness, injury or other event outside their control which significantly affects their ability to:
- take an assessment
- demonstrate what they can do in an assessment
What exam boards must do
Our rules require exam boards to:
- have clear arrangements for giving special consideration
- publish details of those arrangements, including what special consideration is available, and how students qualify for it
We do not specify what special consideration exam boards should give, or how they should determine eligibility for it.
However, all the exam boards offer 2 different types of support for students who are affected by circumstances outside their control, both of which are types of special consideration:
- Changes to the way assessments are taken for students with temporary injuries or illnesses (sometimes referred to as ‘Access Arrangements’).
- A small number of extra marks for students whose exam performance is affected by temporary illness, injury, indisposition, or an unforeseen incident.
The role of schools and colleges
If a student’s ability to complete their assessments, or fully to demonstrate in their assessments what they know, understand or can do, is affected by a temporary illness, injury or other event outside their control, the exam board should be notified as soon as possible.
The exam board can explain what support they can offer, and how to apply for it.
A school or college should not wait until the student has completed the assessments, or until after results are issued, before contacting the exam board as this may mean the student misses out on additional support.
If a school or college does not agree with an exam board’s decision
An exam board should always explain why it has decided not to give a student a special consideration or to make a different consideration to that requested. Our rules mean they must have a process for appealing that decision. If a school or college doesn’t agree with the exam board’s decision, it should follow that process. We will usually only consider complaints about an exam board once the appeal has been concluded.
Malpractice, cheating and exam fraud
Malpractice (including cheating and exam fraud) can affect both qualification standards and confidence in qualifications. It undermines the hard work of students, teachers, schools and colleges, and we take it very seriously.
What exam boards must do
Our rules for exam boards reflect how serious malpractice can be. We require exam boards to do all they can to prevent malpractice when developing, delivering and awarding regulated qualifications. We also require exam boards to:
- investigate plausible suspicions or allegations to find out whether malpractice has happened
- when they become aware of possible malpractice, do all they can to prevent (or if that is not possible, minimise):
- any unfair impact on students (both those affected directly by any malpractice, and students more widely)
- any adverse impact on: their ability to develop, deliver and award the qualification, the qualification standard, or public confidence in qualifications
- have (and comply with) written procedures for investigating malpractice
- make sure investigators have no personal interest in the outcome of their investigations
- do all they can to keep schools’ and colleges’ arrangements for preventing and investigating malpractice under review
- provide (on request) guidance to schools and colleges about how best to prevent, investigate and deal with malpractice
- if malpractice is found, do all they can to stop it happening again, and take proportionate action against those responsible
- inform schools, colleges and other exam boards that may be affected by any malpractice
The role of schools and colleges
Schools and colleges have a key role to play in tackling malpractice.
Exam boards rightly expect schools and colleges to take malpractice, and the risk of malpractice, seriously. They expect schools and colleges to have proper processes in place for investigating and dealing with allegations of malpractice. Exam boards will have their own rules for when and how exams and other assessments are conducted which schools and colleges must follow. Any breach of these rules can undermine the fair conduct of the assessments and the fair award of the qualifications and can result in the assessed work being rejected, the school or college being sanctioned by the exam board or both.
Exam boards, schools and colleges (and those working for them) should always report any evidence or suspicions of malpractice.
Employees of exam boards, schools and colleges should normally raise any concerns with their employer first. For more information see the page on whistleblowing.
We will investigate concerns about malpractice within exam boards, but will normally ask the appropriate exam boards to investigate concerns about schools and colleges.
If we are not satisfied that an exam board is properly investigating suspicions or allegations of malpractice we may require it to take particular steps to do so. We may also require it to impose particular sanctions on those responsible for the malpractice.
Reformed GCSEs, AS and A levels are being introduced in a phased way. The table below shows which reformed qualifications students in different years will take.
|Year group||GCSE||AS and A level|
|Students starting their course in 2015 (Note 1) and taking their exams in 2017 (Note 2)||English language
|art & design
English language and literature
|Students starting their course in 2016 and taking their exams in 2018 (Note 3)||2015 subjects plus:
art & design
food preparation & nutrition
physical education (Note 6)
religious studies (Note 6)
|2015 subjects plus:
drama & theatre
|Students starting their course in 2017 and taking their first exams in 2019 (Note 4)||2015 and 2016 subjects plus:
design and technology
PE short course Polish
|2015 and 2016 subjects plus:
design & technology
history of art
|Students starting their course in 2018 and taking their exams in 2020 (Note 5)||All previous subjects plus:
|All previous subjects plus:
- These dates assume students will study for their GCSEs over a 2 year period.
- AS exams will first be available in 2016.
- AS exams will first be available in 2017. Exams in mathematics will also be available in 2017, to allow students to complete their maths A level in one year and then progress to further maths.
- AS exam will be available in 2018.
- AS exam will be available in 2019.
- There will also be a short course option, first exams in 2018.
Conditions of recognition
The rules with which exam boards must comply for all regulated qualifications are set out in Conditions of Recognition. In addition, the GCSE Qualification Level Conditions apply to all GCSEs (graded 9 to 1). There is a separate set of Conditions for GCSEs graded A* to G. There are specific GCSE Subject Level Conditions for each subject.
The approach is the same for GCE qualifications (AS and A level), with a set of Qualification Level Conditions for new AS and A levels and different Qualification Level Conditions for pre-reform AS and A levels.
All the Conditions are published on our website, including subject level Conditions.
Subject specific requirements on schools and colleges
Exam boards must tell schools and colleges about any subject-specific requirements. There are, for example, additional requirements on schools and colleges to submit to exam boards statements about the provision of opportunities for and/or participation in GCSE science and geology practical work, astronomy observations, geography fieldwork and citizenship activities.
We have put requirements on exam boards to provide resits for some of the legacy qualifications.
Exam boards must provide resits for:
- all legacy AS and A levels in the May or June of the year following the last scheduled entry for the qualifications
- the legacy GCSE English, English language and mathematics qualifications in summer 2017 (in addition to the resits provided in November 2016)
- GCSE science and additional science no later than summer 2018
Exam boards do not have to provide resit opportunities in any other legacy GCSEs, although they may decide to so do. So, for example, an exam board might decide to provide students with an opportunity to enter for legacy GCSEs in biology, chemistry and physics (as well as in science and additional science) but they do not have to.
There are restrictions on who can take the GCSE, AS and A level resits. For GCSEs, only those students who have taken the qualification previously, those who had good reason not to have taken it when planned (such as illness), or who are aged 16 or above on 31 August in the year of the last scheduled sitting can take the resits. For AS and A levels only students who have taken the qualification previously, or those who had good reason not to have taken it when planned (such as illness) can take the resits.
We have published further information about the resit policy.
Resits in reformed qualifications
Most exams for reformed GCSEs, AS and A levels take place in May or June each year. That means most students who want to resit a reformed GCSE, AS or A level will need to wait until the following summer to do so.
In GCSE English language and GCSE mathematics, resits are also available in November, but only for students who were aged 16 or above on 31 August of that year.
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Published: 8 July 2016
Updated: 29 June 2017
- Added a diagram of the review and appeal system and a downloadable version of the guide.
- Updated to include changes to reviews and appeals for summer 2017.
- Updated the 'Review of marking and appeals' section.
- video added
- First published.