COVID Message 2021

Summer 2021

Frequently Asked Questions

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This Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) section focuses on summer 2021 awarding, following the Education Minister’s decision, on 6 January, to cancel all GCSE, AS and A2 exams and the Economy Minister’s decision, on 22 January, to cancel all Essential Skills assessments and examinations for Vocational Qualifications used for progression.

FAQs will be continually monitored and updated as further information becomes available.

Awarding and Assessment Detail for Summer 2021

Will I definitely be awarded a result for each of my qualifications?

Yes, all students who are entered by their school or college will be issued with qualification results in August so they can progress to the next stage of education, employment or training.

How will summer 2021 qualifications be awarded?

All CCEA exams have been cancelled. In place of CCEA exams in January, February and summer 2021, a student’s grade in a subject will be based on their teacher’s professional assessment of the evidenced standard at which they are performing. These will be known as Centre Determined Grades.

Teachers will make evidence-based decisions about the grade they recommend their students be issued. Wherever possible, a breadth of evidence should inform a teacher’s assessment of their student’s grade. This may include the student’s performance in the CCEA Assessment Resource; in any non-examination assessments (including practical examinations, controlled assessment or coursework); other class tests and mock examinations; or any other work completed by students (for example practice examination questions, extended essays etc).

There are different arrangements for qualifications offered by English and Welsh Examination Boards and your school will be able to explain the arrangements for these qualifications.

Will an algorithm be used in awarding?

The Education Minister has confirmed that any solution will be based on the professional judgement of teachers, with moderation but no algorithm. 

Throughout June 2021, CCEA will carry out an external quality assurance process looking at the grades submitted from all centres and reviewing samples of students’ work to make sure the grades submitted accurately reflect the evidence provided.

Will CCEA change the grade my school has awarded?

It is important to ensure fair and consistent standards between schools and colleges. Grades submitted by schools and colleges at the end of May are not the final awarded grades. CCEA will be carrying out external quality assurance across all centres in Northern Ireland.

If candidates’ work has been reviewed and there is evidence to suggest judgments made in a subject or subjects are not secure, schools and colleges will be asked to re-run their processes and for grades to be resubmitted. If after this process, grades submitted are not secure, CCEA will provide support teams to work with centres where evidence and grades do not comply with the appropriate standard. Ultimately, and only in the most severe of circumstances, CCEA may withhold permission for the centre in a subject or subjects to proceed to award and may commence an investigation.

How will you ensure outcomes are fair and consistent between schools and colleges?

Quality assurance is embedded throughout the alternative awarding arrangements. Significant support, guidance and training will be provided to strengthen teachers’ and lecturers’ understanding of how to consistently apply standards and make accurate assessment judgements.

In addition, throughout June 2021, CCEA will carry out an external quality assurance process looking at the grades submitted and reviewing samples of students’ work from all schools and colleges to make sure the grades submitted accurately reflect the evidence provided.

Will my grade be affected by my school’s previous performance?

No, if CCEA has any concerns about the profile of grades submitted in any subject, we will initiate professional dialogue with the school or college. Students’ grades will be based on the evidence which they produce and that evidence should be assessed against the specification for which the student is entered. Schools who do not have evidence of process or are not able to demonstrate that evidence has been assessed in line with the specification may be asked to revisit their grades awarded.

Some students sat GCSE exams in November. Will these exams count towards anything?

The issue of results for GCSE Single Award and Double Award science has gone ahead as planned, with results issued to centres, as scheduled, at 00:01 on Wednesday 20 January, for distribution to candidates on Thursday 21st January.

The outcomes of these GCSE unit exams will be an important part of the evidence for centres grading those qualifications.


How are you taking account of the disruption due to COVID-19?

Students will not be assessed on what they would have achieved if exams had gone ahead, which is what teachers were asked in 2020. This is, because many students will not have covered all of the content that would have been required for the exams due to ongoing disruption.

To allow for this, the grades awarded in 2021 should be based on the evidenced standard at which the student is performing – their demonstrated knowledge, understanding and skills in the content they have covered.

Schools can use evidence of students’ performance against the specification from any point in the course. In order to promote ongoing engagement by students in teaching and learning, schools and colleges can utilise evidence from during the current period of remote learning, as well as when students return to school. We are conscious that evidence generated later in the course is likely to be the most holistic. Schools and colleges will not, therefore, submit Centre Determined Grades to CCEA until towards the end of May 2021. We want to provide opportunities for every young person to progress and improve during the coming months and know that the work they are doing can contribute to their grades. At the same time, we know that some young people will find remote learning difficult and that more consistent evidence of the standard at which they are performing may come from earlier periods of the course.

As schools will be asked to assess the evidenced standard at which the student is performing, this means students do not have to have completed a specified amount of content, or demonstrate skills knowledge and understanding across every area of the specification as they would normally. Evidence may be gathered from all work that is in line with the specification. In this way, we are taking account of differential learning loss, as some students have suffered more disruption to their learning than others.

Prior Attainment

Will CCEA use prior attainment information to award?

Any evidence produced by students during the period of their course can be used to inform teachers’ assessments. There is no time limit on the evidence and it may be relevant to any area of the course specification. The evidence must of course relate directly to the specification for which the candidate is entered.

I scored poorly in my mock examinations, will this affect my overall grade?

Teachers have been asked to draw on a range of available evidence to inform their assessment and will wish to use more than one source of evidence such as a mock examination. It is vitally important that young people continue to engage with teaching and learning for the remainder of the academic year and are given opportunities to progress and develop. Schools and colleges will wish to give further opportunities for students to demonstrate what they know, understand and can do.

This is why schools and colleges will submit their outcomes to CCEA towards the end of May. All young people will also be given the opportunity to take the CCEA Assessment Resource, which may be used as evidence to inform their teachers’ assessments.

Assessment Resource

Is the Assessment Resource the same as an exam?

No. To help teachers make objective decisions, CCEA will make available a set of optional assessment resources, which teachers can use with their students. We want to offer students the opportunity to take this CCEA Assessment Resource during April and May.

This will be unseen, exam questions in the units or modules they would have taken if the exams had been held.

It is likely that most students will only take the assessment resource in the mandatory units at GCSE and the reduced assessment at AS and A2, as they will not have had the opportunity to cover content across the entire specification. However, some candidates may wish to take papers in all areas of the course.

The Assessment Resource is very different from an external examination. It will be marked by a class teacher and will be only one piece of evidence to inform and support the assessment of a student’s abilities. It is not high stakes like an external exam and will be used alongside a range of other evidence.

We hope it will help teachers in the process of making accurate and consistent judgements by providing additional evidence towards the end of the course and also encourage pupil engagement over the next five months. It is an opportunity for students to show their knowledge and skills in the qualification, knowing that other evidence can also be considered.

What if we haven’t covered the content of some of the questions?

Schools and colleges will have the freedom to omit questions from assessment resources, if their students have not had reasonable opportunity to cover the content which is being assessed.

Are CCEA Assessment Resources optional or compulsory?

Use of the CCEA assessment resources is optional and it should not be seen as a high-stakes assessment. Whilst we encourage schools to use them, as they are likely to provide a good indicator of student performance, ultimately this will be a decision made by the school.

Schools may feel that they have other pieces of evidence available that provide a strong indication of the standard of student performance. If used, the assessment resource is likely to be only one piece of a range of evidence used to inform and support the teacher’s overall assessment.

Evidence Gathering

Can there be variation in the evidence used within a subject or qualification due to different teaching groups?

Adopting a consistent approach can help centres arrive at more secure decisions across the cohort. However, we recognise that, particularly in bigger subject departments, the evidence available may vary across different teaching groups. Different teaching groups may also have been taught different areas of content. Where this is the case, it should be made clear in the Head of Department checklist and the Candidate Assessment Record.

Is there a specific number of pieces of evidence required to award grades to candidates? i.e., can it be more than 3-4?

No, as set out in the Head of Centre Guidance, CCEA is not being prescriptive in the amount of evidence to be used by schools for a qualification.

If evidence is requested for moderation purposes, no more than three pieces of evidence should be submitted to CCEA for sampling.

What happens if evidence is not available from individual students e.g. it has been lost or sent home to students?

If a piece of evidence is no longer available, it should not be immediately discounted. If a mark has been recorded for this evidence, it can still be considered alongside other evidence that is available.

If the evidence no longer available is the only key piece on which to base judgement, you may wish to consider another piece of evidence. Alternatively, you may wish to facilitate the student in taking one of CCEA’s optional assessments in the forthcoming weeks to support your determination.

If you do need to use an alternative piece of evidence for a student or students, please ensure this is reflected in the candidate assessment record.

Many of this year’s year 12 students experienced significant disruption during year 11 as a result of COVID-19. Considering the modular nature of normal GCSE awards, where will potential year 11 evidence come from?

This year’s approach to awarding has been designed to provide flexibility in consideration of the disruption caused to students in 2020 and 2021. The pupils are being assessed on their performance in the areas of the specification they have been taught.

This year, schools are not compelled to refer to evidence generated in Year 11 for centre determined grades for GCSE students, however, they may do so if they wish. If schools decide to use it, this must be made clear in the Centre Determined Grade policy. Bearing in mind that a student’s knowledge, understanding and skills may develop over the period of a course of study, any evidence drawn from Year 11 should also be supplemented by evidence generated more recently.

I’m worried that the evidence chosen by my teacher to grade me, isn’t the best evidence to use for me personally. What can I do?

CCEA’s process for awarding grades in summer 2021 recognises that teachers are best placed to award grades based on the evidence produced by students, during a time of great disruption caused by the outbreak of COVID-19.

Your school’s centre determined grades policy will set out what evidence will be used to support centre determined grades. The policy should be accessible to students and parents to ensure you are aware of the evidence that will be used for producing your grade. If you have a concern about the evidence that will be used, you should speak to your teacher.

What does Holistic judgement mean?

When we use the term ‘holistic judgment,’ we are talking about how your teachers should assess the evidence they have available for you. Your teacher will probably have used more than one piece of evidence to arrive at your grade so instead of asking them to carry out a calculation, we are asking them to assess your performance across all the evidence available and arrive at a grade that way.

Taking this approach means that just because you performed poorly in one assessment does not mean you cannot access a higher grade, so even if performance in one assessment is not in line with expectations, there may be good evidence to support the award of a higher grade in other pieces, for example in a mock examination or CCEA assessment resource.

If the Centre and CCEA AO come up with different grades which gets final say?

The decision taken by CCEA Awarding Organisation will be final, even if it differs from the original recommendations made by the school.

If I get a variety of different grades in assessments in a subject, how does my school determine my final grade?

Each Centre Determined Grade is a judgement of the final grade for a qualification. It must be based on a holistic review of a student’s performance across each assessment evidence, identified by teachers to inform judgments.

It is important to note that just because a student has performed poorly in one assessment does not mean that they cannot access a higher grade, so even if performance in one assessment is not in line with expectations, there may be good evidence to support the award of a higher grade in other pieces.

What is classed as insufficient evidence being submitted by a school for sampling?

For sampling purposes, CCEA suggests that up to 3 pieces of evidence are submitted for each student.

How many pieces of evidence can/will my school use to determine my grade?

As set out in the GCSE, AS and A Level Awarding Summer 2021 Alternative Arrangements - Process for Heads of Centre, CCEA is not being prescriptive in the amount of evidence to be used by schools to arrive at centre determined grades for their students in a qualification.

For the CCEA quality review stage, we have suggested that “Ideally no more than three pieces of key evidence should be submitted per student.” However, it is a matter for schools to decide how much evidence they need to support their judgement which may be more than three pieces of evidence.

Are there compulsory pieces of evidence required for each centre?

No. As no centre or student has had the same experience during the pandemic, it is not possible to set a compulsory piece of evidence for each school. Centres have been asked to determine the most appropriate evidence to use to determine a grade for their students.

Do schools have to use same piece of evidence for whole class?

To ensure fairness to all students, we are asking schools to be as consistent as possible when selecting evidence for their class. This should not give you cause for concern. Just because a student has performed poorly in an assessment that is being used does not mean that they cannot access a higher grade. We are asking schools to make a holistic judgment across each piece of evidence they have selected to consider, so even if performance in one assessment is not in line with expectations, there may be good evidence to support the award of a higher grade in other assessment evidence being used to determine your grade.

Can students be made aware of marks achieved in individual assessments?

We are asking schools to explain to students the evidence they are using to arrive at centre determined grades. This should include the marks awarded to individual pieces of evidence but will exclude the final centre determined grade awarded by the teacher. This is because there are further checks and stages that need to be completed before the grade is final.

When will the school’s CDG policy be released to students?

CCEA has reviewed the centre determined grade policies for all schools. Schools are now able to share these policies with students and parents. This includes explaining what evidence will be used to arrive at judgments in different subjects.

I was told that exams had been cancelled and then I had to sit multiple internal assessments under exam conditions. Why was this the case?

Schools have been asked to use a range of evidence to arrive at a professional and academic judgement of the standard at which each student is performing. To do this they can use evidence from any part of the course; however, as a result of school closures there may be instances where there is a lack of evidence. That is why CCEA made additional resources available in March. The assessment resources were entirely optional, and schools were free to use them in any way they chose. If a school did decide to use the assessment resources, this should be made clear in the centre determined grade policy. Also, students usually improve during the course of the qualification and your teachers will have wanted to give you an opportunity to show your full potential. More recent evidence may show that you have improved since winter assessments, and this will help determine your final grade. Equally, it may show that you are at the same level or that you have not done as well as in other assessments. Because teachers will be looking at all evidence holistically, they will know which grade is most appropriate.

Internal standardisation/Timeline

The deadline appears very ambitious for schools to complete the tasks set out in the guidance and to send data to CCEA, especially considering schools are likely to reopen for classes soon. What support is available for teachers?

We appreciate that implementing the process this year will require teachers to undertake activities they would not normally have to complete.

To reduce the administrative demands, we have produced proforma which we hope will support heads of department and subject teachers through the decision-making process, whilst also keeping added workload to a minimum.

The Department of Education has also announced that two additional days – known as Qualification Procedure Days - have been set aside to provide more time to prepare for submission of centre determined grades.

Further information can be found here - Post-primary schools given extra days to prepare for Centre Determined Grades.

We will continue to work closely with partners working in the Education sector including the Department of Education, schools and colleges to understand the workload requirements demands and provide support where possible.

To help support you with queries or concerns, CCEA has a dedicated helpline available at [email protected]

Controlled Assessment

Can practical examinations/controlled assessment/coursework I have completed contribute to my qualification?

Yes, this work (even if not fully completed) can be utilised as part of the evidence which centres consider to arrive at Centre Determined Grades.

Higher Education and Employers

With examinations being cancelled, I’m worried that whatever contingency measure CCEA develops that my university won’t accept it/me?

Universities have already indicated that they will accept an approach where it is agreed by Regulatory bodies. Following the decisions taken in Wales, and more recently England, CCEA would wish to work across jurisdictions to retain as much similarity across approaches if reasonable or at all possible.

Are these qualifications less valuable?

No, the level of demand and standard for the qualifications is the same as in previous years. Higher Education providers and employers will see these as valid qualifications. Schools and learners should cover as much content as is possible to facilitate progression.

Private/External Candidates

I’m an external candidate, will I still get a grade this summer?

All private candidates will be awarded grades in summer 2021.

Alignment with other Awarding Organisations

Reports in England suggest that some exams in core subjects will go ahead? How likely is this to happen here?

All CCEA 2021 GCSE, AS and A level examinations have been cancelled.

What is CCEA doing to ensure parity with the other jurisdictions across the UK and indeed on an all-island basis to ensure no student from NI is at a disadvantage?

CCEA Awarding Organisation and CCEA Regulation continue to engage frequently with our counterparts in the rest of the UK, to ensure comparability in awarding and assessment and to ensure that no student from NI will be at a disadvantage.

What happens to students in NI, studying non-CCEA qualifications?

Schools with students studying for non-CCEA qualifications have been advised by the Department of Education to contact the relevant awarding organisation for details of arrangements to be put in place for their suite of qualifications. If you/your child was due to sit non-CCEA examinations your school will provide details of the alternative arrangements when these are made available. 

Occupational Studies

Are Occupational Studies exams still taking place? If no, how will they be assessed?

The Education Minister has made the decision that formal assessments for CCEA’s Occupational Studies should be cancelled and replaced with alternative arrangements, similar to those in 2020. 

CCEA is currently developing alternative arrangements, for Occupational Studies qualifications. We will continue to work closely with the Department of Education, and other education partners, to ensure rapid development of the framework.

Vocational Qualifications

What is happening with Vocational Qualifications?

Essential Skills assessments and vocational qualification exams were cancelled for Summer 2021 by the Economy Minister.

CCEA Regulation have worked to ensure awarding organisations put in place suitable alternative awarding arrangements that are reflective of this year’s particular circumstances, including Essential Skills. Details of this approach can be found at CCEA Regulation is also currently working with Awarding Organisations (AOs) and other regulators to establish arrangements for 2021-22.

For CCEA AO’s vocational and entry level qualifications further information on how you’ll receive a grade or level for each of your subjects is available here: How Occupational Studies, Vocational Qualifications and Entry Level Qualifications Will Be Awarded in Summer 2021 - Student Guide

Further Teaching and Learning

What approach to learning should teachers/students adopt following the cancellation of examinations?

With the cancellation of exams, schools and colleges have been advised to continue to deliver the programmes of study as originally planned in the context of preparing pupils for examinations with reduced assessment requirements. Schools are encouraged to make full use of the remainder of this academic year and to try, as far as is possible, to cover the full specification for all qualifications. 

The adaptations announced in terms of module omissions related to the omission of assessments, not the removal of those modules from the specification. It remains the position that schools should aim to cover the full specification as far as is possible. 

Will we still be taught everything?

Schools and colleges are encouraged to cover as much of the specification as possible to support progression. However, we recognise the significant disruption which students have faced during their course.

Schools and colleges may decide to continue to prioritise the units which they had prioritised when examination assessment was reduced prior to examinations being cancelled.

Summer 2022

What is the contribution of AS to A Level in Summer 2022?

Although the AS grades issued on 10 August 2021 will not contribute to your overall A level grades, it is still an important qualification. Watch our animation which explains why it is not possible for the AS to contribute to the A2 in 2022.

Your AS grade is a stand-alone qualification for future progression in higher education or employment. It will help you make your final subject choices for your A levels. It can also be used on UCAS forms and to show your educational achievement.

I’m an A2 student, due to ill-health and self-isolation this year, I worry my final grade won’t reflect my ability. Can work from previous years be counted to determine my final A level grade?

Yes. Whilst your AS level grade cannot be counted towards your final A level grade, assessments and schoolwork that you have carried out in your AS year, can be used as evidence to help determine your final grade in Summer 2021.

Health and Wellbeing

I’ve found this year and last year to be really difficult. I’m missing my classmates and I get a bit stressed about remote learning. What should I do?

The wellbeing of our learners will always be of paramount importance to us. We fully understand the challenges you are facing now and we commend you for your strength and dedication throughout this challenging and unprecedented time we are living in.  

We encourage you to communicate, remotely and safely with your family, your friends and your teachers, in line with guidance from the public health agency.  

CCEA has a dedicated wellbeing hub on our website which we would hope that our young people, and indeed parents and teachers, make use of for tips and advice on how to cope healthily and mindfully at this time.

Communication Updates

How will CCEA communicate information/updates as they arise?

We have a dedicated Summer 2021 area of our website. Direct correspondence to schools and colleges will continue to take place, on developments and updates on guidance as soon as this information is available.

We will continue to utilise all of our communication platforms to communicate with and update the public on developments as they arise. Please follow our social media accounts, if you don’t already do so, mainly Twitter (@CCEA_info) and Facebook.