Ofqual consultation on proposed exam assessment changes in 2021 Jump to main content

Ofqual consultation on proposed exam assessment changes in 2021

Ofqual, the examinations regulator in England, has just published its consultation on changes for GCSE, AS and A level examinations due to be taken in summer 2021. This consultation is only open for 14 days, until 16 July 2020. See details of proposed changes.

We are encouraging all our members and supporters to respond to this consultation, to encourage Ofqual to take into serious consideration the needs of music education in the event of future changes.

Before submitting, we encourage you to read the ISM view on the consultation, as we provide further guidance on what questions you may want to answer.


Music education is vital for all young people, regardless of their background or ability to pay. Please help us to keep music accessible to as many young people as possible.

The ISM view on the consultation

Overall, the proposed temporary changes to GCSE, AS and A level music, along with A level music technology seem reasonable and supportive to teachers and pupils in these challenging times. The minimum time expectations for performances and compositions has been reduced and there is no longer a requirement for ensemble performance in 2021. But performance still remains a core part of assessment, which the ISM welcomes.

However, since there are no proposed changes to the content or assessment arrangements of many other subjects (notably those linked with the EBacc), the differences of approach may further undermine the already precarious position of the arts in the curriculum. The consultation states that:

‘We have discussed with the DfE which subjects they would like us to focus on for this purpose, given that Ministers are responsible for determining subject content, and any changes to the sampling of content may have an impact on what is taught. They have confirmed that they do not want us to make any changes to the way content is sampled for GCSE English language, English literature, maths and the sciences because these core subjects are so fundamental to students’ ability to progress successfully to further study.’


This approach continues to promote a hierarchy of subjects, and there is a very real concern that young people will be forced to reduce the number of qualifications they sit; inevitably the focus will be on studying the EBacc subjects, since this is a headline accountability measure on which schools are judged (note that the EBacc is not a qualification).

A key driver of this consultation is to ‘free up teaching time’, but notably only in non-EBacc subjects. This, along with the DfE guidance to schools issued yesterday, may promote the suggestion to some schools that it is fine to focus on core subjects only in September, once all children return to school.

For this reason, we encourage members to not only answers the questions on music, but to answer questions on different subject areas, to point out this imbalance. We have provided suggested responses for you to use or adapt, and these can be viewed here. Answering these questions doesn’t take long, particularly as you can paste the same comment into different subject areas (with the exception of Music and Music technology, which you are likely to agree are positive rather than negative responses).