Like all exam boards in the UK, OCR faced the unexpected challenge in March of the cancellation of summer exams by the Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson. OCR responded quickly and innovatively, including developing a new portal for teacher-generated Centre Assessment Grades (CAGs).
It was a similar picture for our international exam board Cambridge International and colleagues successfully collaborated to ensure that the user-friendly portal worked effectively for teachers at OCR centres and Cambridge International ones alike.
Communication with stakeholders has been essential, and both exam boards placed a significant focus from the start of the pandemic on supporting teachers, students, exams officers and assessors during a time of great uncertainty.
Communication with stakeholders has been essential, and we placed a significant focus from the start of the pandemic on supporting teachers, students, exams officers and assessors during a time of great uncertainty.
A great deal of work went into awarding more than a million qualification results, but these were superseded after a matter of days when England’s exams regulator, Ofqual, announced that grades would not be lower than the CAGs adopted. Its decision mirrored a similar move in Scotland. In the interest of fairness and consistency, Cambridge International also followed suit, announcing that grades issued for the June 2020 series would not be lower than predicted grades submitted by schools.
OCR delivered 140,000 AS and A Level and more than 250,000 GCSE results to students, to agreed schedules, and also issued results to 37,000 students who took Cambridge Technicals qualifications, and to 120,000 students who took Cambridge Nationals qualifications, which is an increase of around 60 per cent taking Cambridge Nationals on the year before.
Cambridge International also released the results of its June 2020 series on time, to thousands of schools around the world. Altogether more than 950,000 grades were issued, to almost 4,000 schools in 139 countries. Earlier, in May, Cambridge International successfully released the results of its March series in India, enabling students to meet local admission deadlines and continue their education. This series has grown significantly since it was introduced five years ago, with entries up 14 per cent on last year. The exams took place before schools closed, and results were issued on time despite the growing challenges of COVID-19.
OCR acknowledged savings made in qualification delivery this summer and confirmed a rebate of 23 per cent on June 2020 exam entry fees for GCSEs, AS and A Levels, and its other general qualifications. It also gave a rebate of 20 per cent for entry fees for Cambridge Nationals and Cambridge Technicals. Meanwhile, Cambridge International gave its centres a discount on entry fees for the June 2020 series and froze its standard entry fees for the November 2020 exam series at June 2020 rates.
Cambridge International reviews its syllabuses on a regular basis so that the content is up to date, the assessments are appropriate and that they remain highly regarded by universities and employers. To that end, a range of Cambridge IGCSE, O Level and International AS & A Level syllabuses were updated for first examination in 2021. A new Cambridge International AS & A Level Drama qualification was also launched, for first examination in 2021, to give students a pathway from Cambridge IGCSE.
Meanwhile, OCR updated its leading GCSE (9–1) Computer Science qualification. Following a consultation, Ofqual had announced that all awarding organisations that offer GCSE (9–1) Computer Science needed to assess practical programming skills via an external examination from 2022. The new qualification now meets that requirement, and OCR supported teachers by offering free professional development until first teaching began.
Star students from the UK's West Midlands region received £3,000 bursaries from OCR to support their studies at the University of Cambridge.
In September Cambridge International extended its Cambridge Primary and Lower Secondary programmes with the addition of four new subjects: Art & Design, Digital Literacy, Music and Physical Education. The subjects aim to give schools a broad and balanced curriculum as well as more opportunities to develop the Cambridge learner attributes of being confident, responsible, reflective, innovative and engaged. The broadening of the curricula is part of an ongoing project to redevelop Cambridge Primary and Lower Secondary, following consultation with schools worldwide.
Also with the aim of broadening its offer to schools, Cambridge International further extended its partnership with the Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award this year. In September, HRH the Earl of Wessex joined the Cambridge International team in Kuala Lumpur to announce an exclusive package of support for Cambridge schools in Malaysia when they begin offering the Award.
In November 2019 Cambridge International welcomed a report from the Department for Education (DfE) confirming that Cambridge IGCSE is the same standard as GCSEs in England. The DfE confirmation came at the end of an in-depth statistical analysis that it carried out across more than 20 subjects. Nick Gibb MP, the Minister for School Standards, told the House of Commons that the DfE “found no evidence of systematic differences in standard between Cambridge’s IGCSEs and GCSEs”.
Following an extensive consultation in the UK and internationally, Cambridge International announced plans in November to withdraw its Cambridge Pre-U qualification. The last examination will be in June 2023, with a resit available in June 2024. Cambridge International is providing full support to schools in transitioning to alternative curricula within Cambridge International.
Similarly, OCR also took the difficult decision to withdraw from English and Maths Functional Skills, as it did not believe it was able to provide a service that best suits that area of teaching and learning. It will withdraw from providing English and Maths Functional Skills qualifications at Entry Level, Level 1 and Level 2 at the end of 2020 but will continue to support centres offering the qualifications to make alternative plans for 2021 onwards.
Once again, 13 star students from the UK’s West Midlands region received bursaries worth £3,000 per year in 2019 from OCR to support their studies at the University of Cambridge. The support is possible thanks to a fund arising from OCR’s historical association with the West Midlands Examination Board. Apart from their achievement in winning places at the University, many of the 13 winners have supported other students in their schools and carried out voluntary work in their local communities.
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