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May 24, 2022

New GCSE exam board texts bring diverse stories to students

AQA has introduced four new texts by BAME authors for GCSE drama.

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May 12, 2022

Northern Ireland Education Minister Michelle McIlveen ‘confident’ summer exams will return to normal

The Northern Ireland Education Minister has said she is “confident school exams should proceed this summer as planned”, with pupils due to sit A-levels, AS levels and GSCEs for the first time in three years.

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Mar 17, 2022

UK Government exams chief: 2022 test changes will not advantage more able pupils

Changes to 2022 GCSE and A-level exams will not make them easier for more able pupils, the head of the Government exam regulator has said.

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Feb 16, 2022

UK A-Level and GCSE exams to go ahead as normal despite disruption

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi states A-level and GCSE exams will go ahead as normal for the first time in two years despite high numbers of teacher absences due to Covid.

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Feb 8, 2022

UK GCSE and A-level grade appeals increased almost five-fold in 2021

Most appeals challenged teachers’ judgment or the selection of pupils’ work used to determine the result.

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Jan 19, 2022

The changes to 2022 GCSE and A-level exams, explained

Exam regulator Ofqual has announced its plans to make a series of changes to next year’s tests to account for classroom disruption.

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Jan 4, 2022

A-Level results: Grades hit record high after exams cancelled for second year in a row

The proportion of A-level entries awarded an A grade or higher has surged to an all-time high after exams were cancelled for the second year in a row due to Covid-19.

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Jan 4, 2022

GCSE and A-level changes give pupils advance warning of exam content

Teenagers in England will be given advance warning of some exam content next year because of disruption caused by Covid, the government says.

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Sep 22, 2021

A-levels: Warning over private and state school gap

Sir Kevan Collins says he is concerned that the "educational legacy of Covid could be growing inequality". For independent school pupils in England, 70% of A-level results were A* or A, compared with 39% for comprehensive pupils. A-level results showed record levels of top grades.

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Sep 17, 2021

Expected inflation of A-level grades means top universities may introduce entrance exams

A report is warning that results could be inflated again after exams were cancelled due to the pandemic and teachers' assessments were used to grade students but a teachers union said it's "unfair" to speculate grades.

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Sep 13, 2021

A-level results: A and A* grades at all-time high after exams cancelled for second time due to pandemic

A-level students have received more A and A* grades this year than ever before after exams were cancelled for a second time due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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Jun 17, 2021

GCSE and A-level exams in 2022 could be ‘adapted’ for learning loss

Students taking A-level and GCSE exams next year could see their assessments adapted to compensate for learning loss, the acting chief regulator of Ofqual has suggested.

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Jun 14, 2021

Teachers, principal stranded in Britain by Covid-19 travel ban as Hong Kong international schools reopen

Education Bureau had advised teachers, students not to travel in December because of pandemic. Currently, there are 14 teachers, head of Harrow International School unable to return after spending year-end holidays in Britain.

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Jun 11, 2021

Grading system could become 'Wild West', MPs warn

Plans for teachers to decide GCSE and A-level grades following the cancellation of this year's exams risk being inconsistent and penalising poorer pupils, MPs warned. This comes as last summer, thousands of students had their results downgraded from school estimates by a controversial algorithm, before the exam regulator Ofqual announced a U-turn which allowed them to use teachers' predictions instead.

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May 11, 2021

Proposals for future assessment arrangements for GCSE French, German and Spanish

A 10-week consultation has started on how GCSE MFL qualifications in French, German and Spanish will be assessed in the future.

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May 3, 2021

England students returning to university in May

Students on all university courses in England will return "no earlier than 17 May", the government has announced. About a million students, taking courses taught online since Christmas, will be able to go back to university campuses. Since the start of the year, only students on hands-on courses have been allowed in-person teaching.

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Apr 26, 2021

IB confirms dual route for May 2021 Diploma Programme and Career-related Programme examination session

The IB has confirmed that it will offer a dual route for the May 2021 Diploma Programme and Career-related Programme examination session. This follows a January survey of over 3,000 schools in 152 countries indicating that many schools and students continue to face huge challenges nearly a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, and the successful roll-out of a similar model in our November 2020 exam series.

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Apr 22, 2021

A-level and GCSE results to be decided by teachers

GCSEs and A-levels cancelled in England by the pandemic will be replaced by grades decided by teachers, the exams watchdog Ofqual has confirmed. Cambridge, Pearson, Oxford has released guidance and procedures for this year's exams.

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Mar 19, 2021

Secondary schools 'move online' in Wales

All secondary schools and further education colleges in Wales will move classes online, the education minister has announced. This comes as Covid-19 infection rates across Wales is averaging more than 370 cases for 100,000 people, with 17% of tests coming back positive.

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Mar 16, 2021

Thousands of BTEC students unable to finish courses

Colleges in Wales said some students taking vocational courses, such as BTECs, are facing delays in qualifying. It is also unfair for other vocational students to sit exams next year, despite A-Level and GSCE exams being cancelled in Wales for 2021.

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ARCHIVED COUNTRY STUDY: (PDF)

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United Kingdom

Overview

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is an island located off the northwestern coast of France and is surrounded by the North Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea. It also includes the northern one-sixth of the island of Ireland as well as several other smaller islands. It consists of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. With a population of 60,776,238, the United Kingdom is the third largest in the European Union. Literacy is 99%.

The United Kingdom traces its history back to its first inhabitants who arrived in 4000BC. Celts from Central Europe arrived in 800BC followed by the Romans who invaded in 43AD and left in 410AD. Over the next centuries, present day England, Wales and Scotland were invaded by the Angles, Jutes, Saxons, Vikings, Danes and Normans. The union of England and Wales began in 1284 and was formalized in a 1536 Act of Union. The 1707 Act of Union united England and Scotland, and Great Britain was formed. The Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 partitioned Ireland and the 6 northern counties remained in the United Kingdom. Great Britain had and continues to have colonies all over the world, many of which have educational systems based on the British model.

Education

Currently, the United Kingdom's Department of Education and Department of Education, Training and Skills oversee the country's education system.

Universal state primary education was introduced in 1870 and universal state secondary education was introduced in 1900. The Education Reform Act of 1988 implemented the National Curriculum. The National Curriculum is currently divided into four stages:

  1. Key stage 1: Years 1-2
  2. Key stage 2: Years 3-6
  3. Key stage 3: Years 7-9
  4. Key stage 4: Years 10-11 (Forms IV and V)

The core subjects throughout all years in the National Curriculum are English, math and science, with Welsh language as a core subject in Wales. The foundation subjects are design and technology, information and communication technology, history, geography, modern foreign language, music, art, and design. The basic subjects are physical education, citizenship, and religious education.

Primary Education

Education is free and compulsory until the age of 16 in Wales and Northern Ireland and 18 in England. Primary school is 6 years and is divided into infant school (2 years) and junior school (4 years). Combined infant and junior schools offer all 6 years in one school. No national diploma is awarded following primary school.

Secondary Education

Following primary school, students enroll in a 5-year secondary school program which is offered at comprehensive secondary schools, secondary modern schools, county grammar schools, city technology colleges, and independent schools. Comprehensive secondary schools have open admission and are the largest in number of secondary schools. Secondary modern schools usually have more selective admission than comprehensive secondary schools. County grammar schools are highly selective and often require an entrance examination. City technology colleges were established by the Education Reform Act of 1988 and have selective admission. Private, independent schools (often called “public schools”) enroll about 6% of the students in England and Wales. They have selective admission and charge tuition. They are not required to follow the National Curriculum, but most do.

Upon completion of general secondary education, students sit for the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE). These examinations are national and externally administered. Students who do not wish to pursue higher education can choose to prepare for employment by studying for the National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs). These awards are based on national occupational standards and can also be pursued by those already in the workforce.

Post-Secondary Education

Students who want to enter a university must continue into the 2-year Sixth Form. At the end of this period, students may sit for the General Certificate of Education Advanced Level (GCE “A” level) examination. However, students may also, after one year, elect to take the General Certificate of Education Advanced Subsidiary examination (GCE “AS” level). Previously, AS levels led to A levels and represented the first half of a sequence. However, they are being decoupled. The reformed examinations represent separate, independent qualifications. As such, AS levels are stand-alone awards.

In Wales, secondary students (ages 14-19) have the option of studying for the Welsh Baccalaureate which was introduced on a pilot basis in 2003. It is a qualification that adds value to and complements established qualifications, such as GCSEs, A levels, or NVQs, but does not replace the qualification. The curriculum includes the Core Program of Key Skills (Communication, Information and Communication Technology, Application of Numbers, Working with Others, Problem Solving, Improving Own Learning and Performance) plus options which are subjects from the student’s academic or vocational qualifications. The program of study includes individual investigation, work experience, and a community project. Students can choose to study in English or Welsh, or a combination of both languages.

The Welsh Baccalaureate has 3 levels: foundation, intermediate, and advanced. The level of study depends on the student’s academic level. Students who are expected to earn grades of D-G on their GCSEs or who are studying at the NVQ Level 1 prepare for the foundation diploma; students who are expected to earn grades of A-C on the GCSEs or who are studying at the NVQ Level 2 prepare for the intermediate level, and students preparing for A levels or a NVQ Level 3 prepare for the advanced diploma.

Previously, there were over thirty awarding bodies that offered the GCSEs and AS- and A-level examinations. As a result of a number of mergers, now five exist in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. OCR, which stands for Oxford, Cambridge, and RSA (Royal Society of Arts), was formed in 1998, and AQA (Assessment and Qualifications Alliance) was created soon after in 2000. Pearson, which acquired full control of Edexcel in 2005, is also known for its technical, vocational and professional qualifications known as BTEC, referring to the original Business and Technology Education Council awards from the 1980s. The Welsh Joint Education Committee (WJEC) was established in Wales in 1948 and the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA) was founded in Northern Ireland in 1994. GCSEs and A level examinations are by subject. As such, students will often take exams from multiple examining bodies.

England has two of the world’s oldest universities: Oxford (founded in 1167) and Cambridge (1209). All undergraduate university admission in the United Kingdom is centralized at the University and College Admissions Service (UCAS) which awards points based on the student’s academic qualifications. Points assessed to the student’s academic credentials determine the student’s eligibility for admission to universities and programs. University programs generally require at least 2 passes on the GCE “A” level certificate examination for admission; some programs have specific GCE “A” level requirements (usually math and science), and some programs have other entrance requirements.

First, Second, and Third Cycles

Bachelor’s programs are 3-5 years long, depending on the field of study. Master’s programs require a bachelor’s degree for admission and are 1-3 years long. Doctoral programs require a master’s degree for admission, are 2-3 years long, and require defense of a dissertation.

A joint forum of curriculum and qualifications authority organizations in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland created the National Qualifications Framework (NQF) in 1999. This six level NQF placed the academic qualifications on a grid stretching from early age compulsory education entry all the way to terminal doctoral study. In 2004 this was revised to display a wider range with 9 levels and including vocational as well as academic qualifications. In 2010 the NQF was re-named the Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF). The QCF displays the vocational and academic qualifications awarded in the UK, mapping them to comparable comparison levels. The UK was one of the first of the Bologna signatory countries to complete this exercise that became part of the required features for all Bologna Process participating countries as part of the Quality Assurance requirements for the European Higher Education Area. In October 2015, the Regulated Qualifications Framework (RQF) was introduced, with the aim of providing a single reference system for all qualifications that are regulated. There remains the same 8 general levels and 3 entry levels that are found on the QCF.

If you need to know the level of a qualification, you can use the Register of Regulated Qualifications (if you know the name of the qualification and the exam board that runs it) or you can review this list of qualification levels in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Note, qualifications at the same level sometimes cover different amounts of the same subject.


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