Due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the summer exam series was cancelled in both 2020 and 2021, and alternative processes set up to award grades. As the method to award grades was different in 2020 and 2021, in this statistical release comparisons for both years will generally be made back to 2019.
GCSE and A/AS
In 2020 students scheduled to sit GCSE and A/AS level exams in the summer were awarded either a centre assessment grade (CAG, based on what the school or college believed the student would most likely have achieved had exams gone ahead) or their calculated grade using a model developed by Ofqual - whichever was the higher of the two.
In summer 2021 students were awarded grades based on an assessment by their teachers using a range of available evidence (TAG). Students were only assessed on the content they had been taught.
Vocational and technical qualifications
For vocational and technical qualifications (VTQs) in 2020, where centre assessment was used, grades were often available at unit level, and awarding organisations were able to use assessments already completed during the course as a basis for calculating the results they issued. For some qualifications, adapted assessment also meant centre assessment grades were not needed.
Similarly in 2021 some VTQ grades were decided using teacher-assessed grades, others using normal assessment routes, and some through adapted assessment such as remote invigilation.
For further information on the process to award grades in 2020 and 2021 see the following links:
Reporting of 2021 results by the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) and Ofqual
As happens every year on A level results day (10 August for summer 2021 results) JCQ published data on A level entries for qualifications awarded in summer 2021, and for each subject the distribution of grades awarded (with data for the previous summer for reference): https://www.jcq.org.uk/examination-results/
The data published by JCQ can be expected to show the same broad patterns as the underlying data published in this statistical release ‘Entries and results – A level and AS by subject and student characteristics (single academic year)'. However, the coverage of the data is different: JCQ data covers all A level entries in the UK by people of all ages. Data in this statistical release covers exam entries by 16 to 18 year olds in schools and colleges in England, and includes breakdowns by a wide range of student characteristics.
In addition, Ofqual also routinely publish data on results day: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/guide-to-as-and-a-level-results-for-england-2021
More exceptionally though in 2021 (and 2020) Ofqual also published ‘equalities’ analyses for GCSE/A levels, and VTQ grades awarded based on statistical modelling. Those models looked at changes in awarding patterns over time for students with protected characteristics whilst taking into account other student characteristics and circumstances, as part of evaluating the TAG process to award grades in 2021. This contrasts with the data for student characteristics published in this statistical release which are simpler descriptive statistics, and so more relatable to the real-world outcomes for students in 2020/21.