Results day 2020: Putting this year’s GCSE and A Level results into perspective

In 2020, results day has taken on an extra layer of mystery and worry because nobody really knows how GCSE and A Level results are being awarded. Will schools have submitted mock grades, predicted grades or something in between based on classwork and assessments?

With results day on the horizon I wanted to help put this year's A Level and GCSE results into perspective for you.

This post is based on a conversation we had on a parents' only coaching call inside The Extraordinaries Club. If you'd like a place to come to express your worries and concerns, and ask questions about your child's academic progress, you need to join The Extraordinaries Club.

Why this year is no different to any other

Every summer a whole cohort of parents and students get incredibly worried about whether they're going to get grades that:

  • Reflect their ability
  • Enable them to move on to the next stage, whether that's sixth form study or the university of their choice

In this respect, this year isn't any different to any other year. Everyone is stressed and nervous about results and what this will mean for our children's futures. The only thing that's different is that we don't fully understand the way that the marks have been awarded.

What we know about this year's results

According to an article in FE Week, Ofqual (the official body that oversees GCSE and A-Level results) said recently that the grades submitted by teachers, across the country, were 12% higher for A-Levels and 9% higher for GCSE than they would be in a normal year.

For the sake of consistency between year groups and so as not to de-value grades, it is necessary for Ofqual and the exam boards to lower the grades awarded by teachers. They are using a standardisation statistical model to do this, but not sharing the exact methodology publicly. But, they have said that this year's results will be slightly higher than they would be in a normal year.

Why teachers can't afford to give large numbers of people bad grades

It's pretty easy to see why teachers will have given students higher grades than they probably would have got, even though school league tables aren't going to be published this year or next year. I've heard of several teachers in schools across the country who have been contacted by parents trying to find out what grades their children have been given. Teachers, as professionals, have not been able to discuss this and it's pretty shoddy behaviour on the part of parents to put them in the position where they have to refuse.

But, it's clear that teachers a) don't want to let their students down and b) don't want to be put in a difficult position with parents as a result of giving low grades. Can you imagine the letters that would be sent into schools and the meetings that would be demanded with headteachers, in an already logistically difficult year, if teachers were to give lower grades?

Why can't exam boards give lower grades?

It would also be very difficult for the exam boards if they were to give lower than normal grades across the country at both GCSE and A-Level. I'll break this down for you.


The administrative side of dealing with hundreds of thousands of appeals would be an absolute nightmare for exam boards. And, dealing with appeals wouldn't be as simple as finding a candidate's exam paper and remarking it the way they would normally do. Instead, the exam board would have to go back to the school for examples of marked work and then effectively moderate it when there is no national standard of that work to moderate it against.

Dealing with appeals would be long-winded, open to challenge and very costly so it stands to reason that the exam boards will want to avoid it.


It will also look very bad politically for the government if an entire cohort of students doesn't get the grades they are capable of because schools shut down in such a hurry because of the coronavirus lockdown. I won't go too far into politics, but the government has burnt through a lot of political capital this year and it can't really afford to burn through any more by making results days into a big problem for students, families, schools, colleges and universities.

The system won't take it

On top of the reasons discussed above, the entire educational and employment system is dependent on a predictable number of students moving on to the next level.

If thousands of students don't get the GCSE results to get into sixth form colleges, how will the colleges fund themselves and pay their staff? Where will those students go, if they're required by law to stay in education until they're 18? And, what will happen to university numbers in two years' time when they're supposed to be going to university?

Similarly, many universities and higher education institutions are on the brink financially. And, with continuing uncertainty about international travel lucrative foreign students might not be able to come to the UK to study for some time to come. This means that universities are desperate to keep student numbers up, simply so that they can pay the bills.

I've even heard that very competitive and prestigious universities are considering taking students through the adjustment process, where students who get higher grades than they expected can get a place at a ‘better' university than they already had a place at after A-Level results – a bit like clearing. This is literally unheard of for places like Cambridge, which is one of the places I've heard to be considering this, but with many students deferring their places they are simply desperate to keep the numbers up and the fees coming in.

Anecdotally I've also heard of other high-ranking universities sending letters to students that imply, without saying explicitly, that students shouldn't worry about their grades, they're virtually certain of a place.

Finally, if a large number of students is blocked from progressing with their education and training the supply of people coming into key professions in several years' time will significantly decrease. There's already a national shortage of professionals like doctors, nurses and teachers so the country can't afford to stop people progressing year-by-year into these careers.

What does this mean for you?

As a parent or a student, you're thinking about yourself as an individual. You might be thinking about that mock exam where you bombed or the fact that you never produced a piece of work that was awarded the grade that you're aiming for.

I hope I've shown you today that the system simply can't afford to let you down by giving you significantly lower grades than you were expecting. And, even if your grades are a bit lower there's a strong chance that your sixth form college or university will take you anyway because they can't afford not to.

What if your grades are too low?

If you don't get the result you needed and your sixth form college or university turn you away, you have an opportunity that most students who don't do what they need to do in their exams don't have: you can take the exams in the autumn. It has been announced that students will be able to take exams in all GCSE and A-Level subjects in October and November.

So, if you are disappointed on results day, if you put in a few weeks of hard work between now and October you'll be able to redeem yourself. And, the best grade out of your teacher awarded grade and the exam will be the one that's used going forward so there's no risk in this for you.

Has this helped?

I hope this has been reassuring for you. If you do need help preparing for autumn exams, please let us know. We have taken on one academic coaching client already to help them prepare for the autumn exams as they are sure they're not going to get the grades, so if the worst comes to the worst we can help. But, I have my fingers crossed that everything is going to be OK for you.

P.S. If you really can't sleep until you get those results check out my article, How to keep your GCSE and A Level results in perspective.


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