Do UK pupils still get special consideration in exams due to Covid-19? Everything you need to know

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The pandemic has left a lasting mark on many young peopleā€™s schooling šŸ˜·
  • Although the UK has largely returned to business as usual after the pandemic, there are a few lingering changes to secondary school exams as of 2024.
  • England is removing the very last of its pandemic support measures in exams after this year.
  • Northern Ireland and England have now returned to pre-pandemic levels of grading.
  • But there are still some extra considerations in place in Wales and Scotland.

The Covid-19 pandemic upended the world in 2020, and its lingering impacts are still being felt in more ways than one.

Early on, some major changes were made to secondary school exam systems across the UK - some of the most significant in studentsā€™ educational careers - to help make up for the months spent yoyoing in and out of lockdowns, and the disruption in caused to their schooling. Some pupils also had to deal with being sick themselves, or the deaths or long-term illnesses of family members.

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Most of the UK has since gone back to operating much as it did before the pandemic, including exams. But with even the UKā€™s government noting the ongoing impact of lockdowns on young people and their mental health, itā€™s sure to have left a lasting mark on education even now.

Hereā€™s what you need to know about Covid-19 exam exceptions, and where they stand in 2024 and beyond:

England

In 2020, the height of the pandemic, GCSE and A Level exams, as well as their Scottish equivalents, were called off - with schools instead piecing together grades based on teacher assessments. The summer exam season didnā€™t return until 2022, and when it did, it had some changes for students.

Ofqual - the government body that regulates exams and qualifications in England - announced grading for the 2022 exams would be more generous than it was pre-pandemic, with additional measures in place like advance notice of some of the content to be featured in exams, more topics to choose from, and formula sheets for maths and science exams. Exams have been undergoing a transition since then back to the way they were - and as of this year, it was almost complete.

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Ofqual also confirmed that its two-year transition back into pre-pandemic grading was also complete as of 2023, meaning that just like last year, there will likely be a lower number of students getting top grades in 2024 - similar to pre-pandemic levels.

Secondary school students who have just completed their GCSE exams were still allowed enhanced formulae and equation sheets, meaning they did not have to memorise formula for GCSE maths, physics, or other similar subjects. But from 2025, these will no longer be available - meaning that next year there will no longer be any special considerations linked to the pandemic for exam candidates.

Wales

Qualifications Wales has also been transitioning back to pre-pandemic grading. In an update earlier this year, it said that this year was the first where secondary school students sitting their exams would not be given advance notice on topics or material that would be featured in their exams, nor would there be ā€œa broadly midway grading policyā€, as there was in 2022 and 2023.

However, Welsh students who just sat their GCSEs or A Levels will still have some grading protection in place this year to avoid results being too far below pre-pandemic years, the regulator says, ā€œto provide a safety netā€.

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Northern Ireland

In Northern Ireland, where students also sit GCSEs and A Levels, exams and qualifications are overseen by the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations & Assessment (CCEA). When exams first returned in 2022, measures to support students included the option to skip out some units in most GCSE and A Level exams, as well as more lenient grading.

Last year students were provided extra information on topics ahead of time and examiners continued their mindful approach to grading, but CCEA has confirmed that this came to an end for the 2024 exam season, ā€œcompleting the return to pre-pandemic standards in gradingā€.

Scotland

Scotland has a rather different school system than the rest of the UK, as education is a devolved issue. Secondary school students there sit Nationals and Highers, as opposed to GCSEs and A Levels.

But the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) also made allowances for its learners whose education was impacted by the pandemic. It adopted a ā€œgenerous approachā€ to grading and grade boundaries in 2022, and maintained a ā€œsensitiveā€ approach last year.

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Unlike most of the country, Scottish secondary school students sitting exams for the first time will still get special consideration in 2024, SQA has confirmed. ā€œIn 2024, we will therefore consider any impact on learners completing coursework for the first time, as part of their SQA assessments, in our grading decisions,ā€ it wrote in its advice to candidates.

ā€œThese considerations will be incorporated into our well-established grading processes. This will provide fairness and safeguards for learners and help to provide assurances across the wider education community.ā€ SQA says it will share more detailed information on its approach to grading on results day - in August. It is not yet known whether this approach will continue next year.

The UK government has issued some advice for parents and carers supporting students as they wait receive their exams results. This can often be a tense and emotionally fraught time, especially if things donā€™t go as expected. You can check this advice out online here.

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