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Regulating GCSEs, AS and A levels: guide for schools and colleges

Explains how Ofqual regulates exam boards that provide GCSEs, AS and A levels, what schools and colleges can expect from ​exam boards and what exam boards, in turn, expect from schools and colleges

The Exams Office encourages centres to read the The Ofqual blog


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A summary of Ofqual’s work on general qualifications – sent out at least once a term

  • (11/01/2019) Issue 16 – January 2019 now available


Specifically written for exams officers and other interested staff members in schools and colleges (the Exam matters newsletter will supersede 9 to 1 news this year when the vast majority of 9 to 1 reforms will be through)

Qualifications reform – Ofqual communications


AS and A level changes and reforms

GCSE changes and reforms    Get the facts: GCSE reforms 

Qualifications reform: resources for teachers

Ofqual postcards: GCSE, AS and A level reforms, with an emphasis on current reforms to qualifications in England 

Videos about GCSE 9–1 grading 

The Exams Office has been working closely with Ofqual over recent years and welcomes Ofqual’s attempt to raise the profile of exams officers, and increase awareness of exams regulations and requirements

To further develop our positive collaborative working relationship, we will be further meeting with Ofqual and would like to thank Richard Garrett, Director of Policy & Strategic Relationships for General Qualifications, for attending our Summer 2018 conference as a keynote speaker

Supporting Exams Officers


(13/11/2018) Webinar for Exams OfficersWhen things go right: A wider perspective of the exams system  Recording and transcript available here

(10/12/2018) JCQ responses to Ofqual webinar for exams officers (held on 13 November 2018)


Ofqual updates

(15/01/2019) Open letter to Heads about grading of higher tier combined science and MFL GCSEs in 2019

(updated 11/01/2019) Access arrangements for GCSE, AS and A Level: 2017 to 2018 academic year

(13/12/2018) We have today published our report of the 2018 summer exam series report that provides an overview of the summer GCSE, AS and A level exams in England. 

Ofqual has today (Thursday 13 December) published its review of GCSEs, AS and A levels in summer 2018, providing an overview of the exam boards’ planning, administration and marking which supported the series, along with a summary of the awarding process and what happened post-results.

2018 was the biggest year of reform, and most exams taken this summer were in reformed qualifications. We conclude that the 2018 summer series was successful, well planned, and effectively delivered. In recent years, exam results have been stable, and this trend continued. Variability in school and college results this summer was similar to previous years, suggesting that teachers and students responded well to the considerable reforms.

The majority of entries in 2018 were for reformed qualifications. Entries for GCSEs and A levels remained broadly stable. In line with recent trends, entries for AS subjects fell by almost 60% from 659,880 in 2017 to 269,090 in 2018. This is largely because new AS qualifications are stand-alone qualifications in England (meaning students do not have to take an AS as part of a reformed A level).

During the exam series, 14.7 million scripts were generated by 1.3 million students. As in previous years, the vast majority of exam papers were error free. Where errors did occur, none was sufficiently serious to have had a significant impact on students. There were fewer security breaches and incidents of malpractice, reflecting work undertaken by exam boards to strengthen procedures.

Alongside this summer, report we have issued the following publications:

Official statistics: reviews of marking and moderation

The number of GCSE and A level grades challenged and changed fell in 2018 compared to the previous summer, according to official statistics published today. The data also indicate that nearly two-thirds of reviews resulted in no mark change, an increase from 2017. The reasons given for grade changes when they did occur this year are more consistent with the appropriate application of our rules regarding reviews of marking and reviews of moderation as introduced in 2016.

Official statistics: malpractice

Official statistics of malpractice in the summer 2018 GCSE, AS and A level series, published today, show there were fewer incidents of malpractice. The number of malpractice penalties issued to students has remained stable since 2017. The main reason for penalties continues to be unauthorised materials – particularly mobile phones – in the examination room. Staff and centre malpractice penalties have both decreased. These falls are encouraging in the context of the significant communications and engagement campaign we, and the exam boards, conducted this summer. We are planning further activity, alongside exam boards, to support exams officers in tackling the problem of students retaining their mobile phones during examinations.

Comparability between exam boards and the maintenance of standards over time

We monitor GCSE, AS and A level awards each summer to make sure, so far as possible, that there is a level playing field for students. One of the ways that we do this is to make sure that the grade standards in a subject are comparable, so that it is not easier or more difficult to get a particular grade with one exam board than with another. Across all awards in summer 2018, we concluded that the exam boards had maintained appropriate standards and that grade standards within each subject were aligned.

National Reference Test

We have published more information about the operation of this year’s tests. This was the second year of the National Reference Test (NRT) (following the Preliminary Reference Test in 2016). The tests, in English language and maths, are taken by students in a sample of schools and they provide additional evidence about students’ performance over time in those subjects. In 2017 we benchmarked the NRT against GCSE results in English language and maths, so that in future years we can compare student performance with the 2017 baseline. Results from the 2018 NRT show an increase in performance in maths and a slight decrease in English, although in English the differences are not statistically significant. The improvement in maths is in line with what we might expect to see as schools get used to the new qualifications. We have been clear that we would not use the NRT results in awarding in summer 2018. From 2019 onwards the NRT results will provide an additional source of evidence for awarding decisions in GCSE English language and maths.

Extended Project Qualification

We have published analysis of the variability over time in the relationships between grades for the Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) and other variables (including GCSE grades) that could potentially influence students’ performance on EPQ. Findings indicate that there might have been modest grade inflation in EPQ grade outcomes, particularly since 2014. We are planning to do further work to assess grade standards in EPQs over time.


In summer 2018 we enhanced our analytics apps to show variability in school and college GCSE and A level results and launched an interactive map of England showing results in different subjects by grade and county. We have now added a further app to our suite, which provides new data and functionality, showing GCSE and A level entries and results by subject and year.

We also published the following official statistics on 6 December:

Official statistics: special consideration 2018

Official statistics: Entries for GCSE – November 2018 exam series