Following the closure of schools and the cancellation of exams, this page covers the key implications for universities relating to UK school qualifications and admissions. This page will be reviewed and updated as new details emerge. 

In response to growing concerns about Covid-19, schools across the UK are now closed except for the most vulnerable children, and children of key workers.

As part of this closure, school exams will not go ahead as planned this year. Pupils will instead be awarded grades based on a combination of their performance to date, completed coursework, mock examinations and other forms of non-exam assessment. The exact method of assessment may differ depending on the qualification and on whether a pupil has been studying in England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.

How will students be graded? 

For AS and A-levels in England: 

Ofqual (which regulates qualifications, examinations and assessments in England) has published guidance to schools, colleges and teachers on how grades should be awarded. Heads of schools will be expected to submit grades and student rankings using a range of evidence. Submitted grades will then go through a process of standardisation before final grades are awarded.

Estimated grades will need to be submitted to exam boards no earlier than 29 May 2020, and exam boards will announce deadlines for the submission of estimated grades after Easter.  

For Scottish Highers: 

The Scottish Qualifications Agency (SQA) regulates all Higher, Advanced Higher, and National 5 qualifications. It has published information about its timeline for further information on alternative arrangements. The SQA is working to a timeline broadly consistent with Ofqual in England. It expects to share more details with teachers after Easter and expects that schools will submit estimated grades by 29 May, in an extension to the deadline previously announced. 

Universities Scotland is part of the SQA’s Qualifications Contingency Group and is in close contact with the SQA as it evolves its planning. We are reassured by the plans thus far. Universities will be flexible in their admissions processes for the 2019–20 intake. Universities Scotland has also discussed with SQA the need for the alternative arrangements not to inadvertently disadvantage learners who would be widening access entrants as we are determined that Covid-19 will not deter progress in widening access to university. 

For AS and A-levels in Wales:  

Qualifications Wales (QW) have provided information following the decision not to hold secondary school exams this summer. Grades for A-Level qualifications in 2020 will be calculated using a range of evidence. They will be based on a combination of factors which may include marks for work completed to date, for example AS results for A-Level grades, and standardised teacher assessed grades. 

QW is still considering the fairest way to issue grades for learners who are studying vocational qualifications and the Welsh Baccalaureate. Most vocational qualifications are offered across the UK, so QW are working with fellow regulators, exam boards and governments across the UK to ensure consistency. More detail is expected in due course. 

For AS and A-levels in Northern Ireland

The vast majority of candidates in Northern Ireland take their A-levels with CCEA, although some candidates will take qualifications with other organisations managed by Ofqual in England. 

The CCEA is working with the Minister of Education in Northern Ireland to finalise the process for grading A-levels. They have published and are regularly updating an FAQ page for providers.

For International Baccalaureate (IB) students: 

The IB intends to release results to higher education providers and schools as planned on 5 July 2020.  

Students will be awarded either a diploma or a course certificate which reflects their standard of work. The achievement will be based around the students’ coursework and the established assessment expertise, rigor and quality control already built into the programmes. Further information can be found on the IB website. 

UUK is working with other sector bodies, including UCAS, on the implications that cancelled exams will have for pupils taking other qualifications. UCAS also has advice on the latest announcements relevant to different exams and qualifications on their website

For vocational and technical qualifications:

Learners due to take assessments for Functional Skills qualifications before the end of the summer will receive a calculated result. 

The complexity of the landscape for vocational and technical qualifications means a single approach is not appropriate.

Calculated results will draw on a range of evidence, depending on the structure of the qualification. They may be based in part on teacher, trainer or tutor judgements of the result each learner would most likely have achieved had they been able to complete their assessments in summer 2020. More information is available from Ofqual. Ofqual has worked with awarding bodies in the devolved nations to develop the approach.

Will this affect these students in later years? 

The grades will be indistinguishable from other years, and the distribution of grades will follow a similar pattern to other years so that students do not face a systematic disadvantage. This is because exam boards will standardise teachers’ judgements once they have been submitted, using a statistical methodology to be developed in conjunction with qualifications regulators. 

The UK Government and UUK will also work with the exam regulators to make sure that the grading is applied consistently to all students. 

The same process will apply in Scotland, as overseen by the SQA. There will be a process of standardisation so that the results have integrity and students, parents, universities and others are assured of this. 

When will students get their grades? 

In England and Wales, A-Level results day will be as originally planned, on 13 August.  

There will also be an appeals process. Students will have the right to sit an exam at the earliest possible opportunity, if they are not happy with their grade. In England Ofqual is working with exam boards to offer exams in the autumn term and will consult on proposals for this. More information available from Ofqual

In Scotland, SQA is working to the expectation that students will get their Higher and Advanced Higher results by 4 August, which would mean no delay relative to an ordinary year. 

What is Universities UK doing about this? 

Universities UK is having regular conversations with the Department for Education, UCAS, Ofqual (England), and OfS (England), to find a solution that’s efficient, fair and in the best interests of students who hope to progress to university. 

At a devolved level, in Scotland, Universities Scotland is in regular contact with the Scottish Government, SQA, QAA Scotland, the Scottish Funding Council as well as staff and student unions. 

Related resources 

The cancellation of A-level exams and the impact of the pandemic on prospective students means that Covid-19 has had implications for undergraduate student recruitment process for the upcoming 2020/21 academic year.

Mixed group of stuents entering and leaving a university building

Admissions Q&A

Key questions answered on the implications for the cancellation of UK school exams on university admissions.

Fair Admissions Agreement

A set of principles and behaviours that demonstrate how the sector places the student interest at the heart of admissions decision-making processes, recognising the additional pressures on students during this difficult and disruptive time.


UUK logo

USS employers back changes to the pension scheme

15 June 2021
Employers in the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) are backing a series of proposals for medium and long-term reform of the pension scheme.

UUK response to government announcement on new fund for higher technical courses

11 June 2021
UUK has responded to the government’s announcement of a multi-million-pound investment to allow more people to gain higher level technical skills

Students catch-up studies

Universities boosting academic skills and wellbeing of Year 13s

9 June 2021
​Universities are stepping up efforts to support the education and wellbeing of Year 13s transitioning to higher education this autumn.