Westminster Education Forum

We are continuing to organise full-scale virtual conferences which retain all the features of physical seminars, including full programmes, presentations with slides, panel discussions and live delegate questions and comments sessions, person-to-person and group networking, and a permanent record provided to all delegates afterwards. New events are coming on to our conference programme all the time, so there are plenty of opportunities to join us if you haven’t already, from wherever you are.
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England’s exam system - the impact of COVID-19, priorities for exams and assessment in 2021, and the future use of technology

March 2021

Price: £95 PLUS VAT

***Full-scale policy conference taking place online***
This conference will examine the priorities for England’s exam system, further options for the system moving forward, and key issues for exam regulation.

It takes place with the Government announcing that GCSE, A and AS Level exams will not go ahead this summer, with grades to be awarded using a form of teacher assessment. It also follows Ofqual’s consultation on the new arrangements, alongside a consultation on arrangements for the awarding of vocational qualifications.

Sessions will include discussion on:

  • arrangements for awarding qualifications in 2021, and lessons learnt from the impact of COVID-19 on the exam system
  • next steps in ensuring a high quality exam system that is accessible for all students
  • the future use of alternative summative assessment
  • latest thinking on opportunities for utilising technology

The discussion is bringing together stakeholders with key policy officials who are due to attend from the DfE; Ofsted; the IATE; HMRC and HMPPS.

The seminar is supported by Surpass, by BTL, and organised on the basis of strict impartiality by the Westminster Education Forum.

The agenda

  • Lessons learnt from the 2020 exam season and key priorities moving forward
  • The impact of COVID-19 on the exam system - identifying areas for improvement, evaluating the response of stakeholders and students and preparations for awarding qualifications in 2021
  • Awarding 2021: JCQ support for teachers and exam centres during a difficult year
  • The next steps in developing a high quality, accessible exam system and the future use of alternative summative assessment models
  • The role of formative and continuous summative assessment in general qualifications
  • The future for England’s exam system - building on best practice from the 2020 series, the role of technology and ensuring qualifications equip young people with the skills to succeed post-18

Key areas for discussion:

Adapting the exam system - delivering high quality and accessibility, and options for awarding qualifications in 2021:

  • looking ahead to the awarding of qualifications in 2021 as the Education Secretary announces that exams will not go ahead, with teacher assessment being used in their place:
    • supporting students - how to maximise teaching time to ensure that students have an opportunity to catch up and progress successfully
    • supporting teachers - to enable them to assess students fairly and consistently, and the training and guidance that teachers will be given to ensure that they are not overburdened
    • evidence:
      • the broader information that should be factored into teacher assessment
      • if externally set tasks and pre-prepared questions by exam boards should be recommended or required
      • if pre-prepared questions are used - whether these should be set tests where all students complete the same task, or if teachers are able to use a question bank to ensure that students are only assessed on what they have studied
    • how external assessment will work - if students will complete the tasks under exam conditions, and if students who are self-isolating will be able to sit the tasks at home
    • ensuring assessment across the whole curriculum - whilst balancing against assessing content which students have not had a chance to study
    • quality assurance in teacher assessment - addressing concerns of exam boards on the exceptional nature of changes to grades as a result of external assessment
    • appeals process - the way in which this will work for 2021
  • the timetable - awarding of grades in 2021 and how to ensure that this works for FE and HE providers
  • how a balance with positive exam results can be achieved - particularly in light of challenges presented by the pandemic, with Ofsted’s new education inspection framework including an increased focus on ensuring that schools deliver a broad and balanced curriculum

The summer and autumn 2020 exams series - adapting the system to meet the challenges created by COVID-19:

  • lessons that can be learnt - from the exams season in 2020, including:
    • the awarding of calculated grades
    • the methodology used following a recent review announced by the Office for Statistics Regulation
    • the appeals process
    • the autumn 2020 series
  • applying measures from the autumn series to future exams - following responses to Ofqual’s consultation on an additional GCSE, AS and A level exam series in autumn 2020, including:
    • how social distancing can be applied to future exam series if necessary
    • key lessons that can be learnt in terms of exam timing and the future provision of re-sits
  • evaluating the 2020 summer exam series - whether the measures put in place to award students’ calculated grades last summer were sufficiently robust and had the confidence of both students and parents

The future role of technology - improving the exam system and accessibility:

  • testing and marking
  • the likely impact of the pandemic - and how lessons learnt from the utilisation of technology can be built upon, including:
    • the future of paper as part of exams
    • in marking practices, with Ofqual exploring the potential future use of AI in marking
  • improving the accessibility of the exam system:
    • including for pupils with SEND and learning difficulties
    • particularly in the autumn series, with the DfE issuing guidance for exam centres in light of the pandemic
  • allowing young people to better demonstrate skills they use:
    • opportunities EdTech solutions and other assessment models can provide to exhibit skills both inside and outside the classroom, particularly through the use of course work
    • how these models can be better implemented within the overall system

Policy officials attending:

Our forums are known for attracting strong interest from policymakers and stakeholders. Places have been reserved by officials from the Department for Education; Ofsted; the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education; HM Revenue & Customs; and Her Majesty's Prison and Probation Service.

This is a full-scale conference taking place online***

  • full, four-hour programme including comfort breaks - you’ll also get a full recording and transcript to refer back to
  • information-rich discussion involving key policymakers and stakeholders
  • conference materials provided in advance, including speaker biographies
  • speakers presenting via webcam, accompanied by slides if they wish, using the Cisco WebEx professional online conference platform (easy for delegates - we’ll provide full details)
  • opportunities for live delegate questions and comments with all speakers
  • a recording of the addresses, all slides cleared by speakers, and further materials, is made available to all delegates afterwards as a permanent record of the proceedings
  • delegates are able to add their own written comments and articles following the conference, to be distributed to all attendees and more widely
  • networking too - there will be opportunities for delegates to e-meet and interact - we’ll tell you how!

Full information and guidance on how to take part will be sent to delegates before the conference

Shortly after every Westminster Education Forum seminar, a briefing document is produced. This is distributed to all delegates on the day as well as to our policymaker contacts in government, and to stakeholders more widely.

A seminar publication provides a timely record of proceedings, and acts as a guide to the latest thinking on current policy issues for those unable to be at the event.

This publication includes


Contributions from keynotes and panellists, including accompanying slides*
*Subject to approval

Delegate Pack

Information from the day, including delegate list, biographies and agenda


Transcript of questions and comments posed to speakers from attending delegates


Supplementary articles from speakers
and delegates