From education to employment

Triple lock for students ahead of A level and GCSE results – Sector Response

#ResultsDay2020 – Students could receive the higher result out of their calculated grade, valid mock grade, or autumn exam grade to bolster fairness 

A new ‘triple lock’ process will give young people added security as they receive their grades this year, the Education Secretary has announced.

Students could accept their calculated grade, appeal to receive a valid mock results, or sit autumn exams to ensure the achievements of young people are recognised.

Ofqual has been asked to determine how and when valid mock results can be used to calculate grades.

All outcomes will hold the same value for universities, colleges and employers, building on the significant number of students who will still progress as a result of their calculated grades. Similar arrangements will apply to vocational and technical qualifications.

This will provide an additional safety net to the system of calculated grades, which is the fairest possible approach in the absence of exams. The grades students receive on Thursday will be based on the judgement of their school or college, and have been moderated by exam boards to make sure the same standard is applied for all students, whichever school, college or part of the country they come from.

Gavin Williamson 100x100Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said:

“Every young person waiting for their results wants to know they have been treated fairly. By ensuring students have the safety net of their mock results, as well as the chance of sitting autumn exams, we are creating a triple lock process to ensure confidence and fairness in the system.

“No one wanted to cancel exams – they are the best form of assessment, but the disruption caused by Covid-19 meant they were not possible.

“This triple lock system will help provide reassurance to students and ensure they are able to progress with the next stage of their lives.”

mary boustedDr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:

“After months of defending the system devised by Ofqual to determine this year’s GCSE and A level grades, Gavin Williamson has been forced into an embarrassing U-turn. He should have listened to the concerns raised much earlier by teachers and assessment experts. He should have worked with the profession to establish a sound basis for grades which can determine pupils’ life chances. Ignorance and inaction appear to have been his watchwords.

“Even these changes do not level the playing field between Scottish and English students. Scottish students were today given the option of having the best grade awarded either by the exam board, or by teacher predictions. English pupils do not have this option. Their alternative to the exam board grade is the grades achieved in their mock exams, which do not take into account expected further progress.

“Most unfairly, English students are still more likely to be given lower grades – either by the exam board, or by the mock exam. This fundamental difference in the Scottish and English awarding process does not create a level playing field between Scottish and English students for university entrance.

“The third option available to English students is to re-take the exams in the Autumn term. How this will happen in COVID secure schools and colleges is a question which, like so many others, Gavin Williamson has not yet answered.”

David Laws 100x100David Laws, Executive Chairman of the Education Policy Institute (EPI), commented: 

“While the suspension of national exams this year has made it challenging to devise a fair grading system, it is highly unsatisfactory that the government is announcing a change to the awarding of grades less than 48 hours before A level results are due to be published.

“The government is in danger of creating confusion for students, parents and universities by talking of a “triple lock”, including the implied option for students to choose to receive their “mock” grade.  In fact, the use of a mock grade seems to only be part of an appeals process, rather than being a guarantee.

“Given the inconsistent ways in which they are used by schools, offering a mock grade option also does very little to solve the question of fairness. Ofqual now faces the huge task of attempting to set what the standards for a valid mock result will be. 

“The Department for Education and Ofqual need to ensure that exam results are fair to individual students, including those from ethnic minority and disadvantaged backgrounds. It is also important that national results are credible and not excessively out of line with what might reasonably have been expected for this group of students.

“Given the chaos over Scotland’s exam results this year, there needs to be close scrutiny in England of A level and GCSE results to ensure these objectives are being secured.

“In spite of the appeals process, there may well be some students this year who are not fairly served by the attempt to award exam grades without holding exams. It is now essential that universities, schools and colleges act flexibly and pragmatically to ensure that students who might unfairly lose out on opportunities are protected. This means being particularly sensitive where students have missed their targets by a single grade.

“It is important that the qualifications system should have credibility. But it is even more important that individual students should not have their future prospects damaged unfairly due to the exceptional circumstances of this year.” 

Martin Hottass 100x100Martin Hottass, Managing Director – Technical Training at City & Guilds Group comments:

“This has been an incredibly uncertain year for young people, with face-to-face studies brought abruptly to an end at the beginning of lockdown and almost one million additional young people expected to be out of work by the end of the year. But it’s important to remember that there is hope– we’ve seen an explosion of jobs in areas like nursing and care, meanwhile more Government investment is expected in building and infrastructure projects that will create thousands of jobs in engineering and construction.

“Now is the time for 16- to 18- year olds, their parents and schools to consider the jobs that will be available in the years ahead, and factor this in to their decision when choosing next steps after GCSEs and A Levels. Professional and technical training routes such as T-Levels, which are launching this September, as well as apprenticeships and traineeships, will allow young people to gain the workplace skills that are likely to be in demand in the future and give them the best prospects of finding future employment.

“More than ever, schools need to ensure they are providing students and parents with robust and unbiased advice on careers and the full scope of education routes available, we encourage employers to keep on offering apprenticeships and work placements where possible.”

NUS National President, Larissa Kennedy said:

“We called this week for the UK Government to ensure any exam resits were free to the student, and we welcome confirmation that this will be the case. 

“However, the rest of the triple lock approach is wrong. The use of mock exams results risks making a mockery of the whole system, given the lack of a standard approach to mock exams and the fact they are not taken by all candidates. This is a botched attempt at a solution which does not fix the problem created by the classist, racist moderation system, that students’ results will be based on where they live not a true reflection of their own abilities.

“We still believe that England should follow Scotland in scrapping moderated grades. With its triple lock policy, all the Government has done is lock in inequality.”

Julia Buckingham 100x100Professor Julia Buckingham CBE, President of Universities UK and Vice-Chancellor of Brunel University London, said:

“On the eve of A-level results, our advice to students is to carry on as planned, which means if you miss out on the grades for your offer don’t panic.

“Speak to your teachers for their advice and get in touch with your first choice university as soon as possible – universities will be as flexible as they can in these unusual circumstances – and look at the courses available through Clearing.

“This last-minute policy change presents a number of challenges for universities and we are seeking urgent clarification from the Department for Education on a range of issues including the likely scale and timing of appeals.”

david hughes 100 x100Chief Executive of AoC, David Hughes said:

“The media coverage and decisions in this last week before results day has done nothing to ease young people’s worries and confusion in what has already been a disrupted and stressful academic year. In the absence of students actually sitting exams and assessments this was always going to be imperfect process. It’s no surprise that the outcomes are being questioned like never before. There will be time over the coming months to review what has happened, not for recriminations, but to help design a system which can be more resilient to future shocks and to ensure confidence in the accuracy of the grades.

“What we need now, though, to truly do justice to the Class of 2020, is to put all of our efforts into helping every student navigate a route through results day and onto their next step. Whether that be progressing at college, into a job, onto university or an apprenticeship. The process for results this year should help make that happen, despite the inevitable flaws.

“Ahead of GCSE results day next week we would urge the government to consider the interests of students on the border of grade 4 in English and maths. We would support an approach which makes sure that they do not lose out. This can be achieved by agreeing that the moderation process should not downgrade any student from grade 4 to grade 3. The grade 4 boundary is like a cliff-edge, so it would be highly unfair for standardisation based on previous results to over-ride teacher assessments. Announcing this would ease the concerns of thousands of young people who need their grade 4 results to progress successfully this autumn.

“The government’s commitment to underwrite the additional costs of the autumn exam series is welcome and comes on top of the separate refunds from awarding bodies which reflect their reduced costs for this summer’s exam entries. The new autumn series will incur a range of extra costs and place additional pressure on colleges at a busy time of the year such as entry fees, accommodation, administration and invigilation. It is critical that the additional funding will cover all of those. We still hope that the numbers of young people needing or wanting to enter in the autumn will be low because they have been able to progress successfully onto the next stage of their learning or into work. Large numbers of autumn entries would cause disruption to students and to colleges as well as logistical problems.”

Elliot Gowans100x100Elliot Gowans, SVP International at D2L, reflects on the potential to rethink student assessment in the future:

“From conversations with our customers, we have seen educational institutions across the UK begin to rethink summative exams in favour of more continuous assessment over the academic year. Whilst they value both systems of assessments, this shift can ‘even the playing fields’ for students who don’t perform well under pressure, as well as giving them a more lifelike assessment structure that mimics demands of the working world.

“Previous grades give you one part of the puzzle but getting an accurate reflection of the overall picture calls for investment in learning analytics. Teachers can see students’ average grade easily, but looking at access information, utilisation of revision materials, and other data points can give a holistic view of how students would be working towards a final exam so staff can fill in the blanks regarding their effort.

“Many institutions already make use of predicative algorithms to identify at risk students – but if there is ever a shift to more continuous assessment, institutions will have more data points to base predictions and interventions off than ever before.”

peter lampl100x100Sir Peter Lampl, founder and chairman of the Sutton Trust, said:

“This year’s grading is grossly imperfect. That’s why it isn’t possible to find a satisfactory solution.

“The Government has decided to use what they call a “triple-lock” which means students’ results  will be the highest of three different measures:  their grades predicted by their teachers; their performance in mock exams; and their performance in an optional written exam in the autumn.   

 “It’s vital that universities make greater use of contextual admissions for students who have narrowly missed out on their grades. They must recognise that students’ grades have been awarded in the most extraordinary of circumstances.

“So that young people have confidence in this year’s system, the appeals process must be fair and accessible to all. Which means fees have to be waived.

This year has highlighted the flaws in our university admissions system which is based on predicted grades. There’s never been a better time to look seriously at reform. With 85% of teacher predictions being wrong we should remove predicted grades from the system entirely by moving to a post-qualification application system.  What we mean by this is students getting their A-level results much earlier and applying to university when they know what their actual grades are.  This is much fairer and far more efficient, not least as it avoids the stress and anxiety of the clearing process.

“To all students receiving their results this week, I wish you the very best of luck. I hope you feel confident that the grades you are awarded reflect your hard work and achievements.”

Dr Hollie Chandler, Head of Policy (Higher Education) @RussellGroup, said:

“Students receiving their results this summer will be doing so in a set of difficult and unprecedented circumstances.

“We would advise those who miss their grades not to panic and to contact their first-choice universities once they receive their results. Our universities intend to adopt a flexible approach to admissions, within the limits of the student number controls set by Government.

“They will be taking a range of factors into account so that talented students from all backgrounds can benefit from the world-class higher education offered by Russell Group universities.

“We are working with the DfE and Ofqual to get clarity on how the new appeals process will work and would urge them to ensure appeals are processed as quickly as possible to prevent further uncertainty for students and the sector.”

Pete Edge, director of admissions at The University of Law, comments:

“My chief concern with the system is that it is hard to look past it being a reactionary measure based on observing the challenges that Scotland faced last week. We know that mocks are not a standardised thing nor are they available for or used by all courses, schools and colleges.

“As universities, we have been asked to be as flexible as we can be this year to take into consideration students having calculated grades and to see the approach changed at the eleventh hour I think is likely to further confuse a group of young people who already have experienced an incredibly stressful end to their secondary education.

“My advice to students considering The University of Law this year is to get in touch with us and make sure to mention that you are considering appealing your calculated grades via your school or college; whether that be because your grades were moderated downwards by the Awarding Body or because your mock performance exceeded the results you were given. We’ll do all that we can to support you.”

An Ofqual spokesperson said:

“We understand this has been an incredibly difficult time for students, who have not had the chance to prove their knowledge and skills in exams.

“The approach we have developed with exam boards and assessment experts for awarding GCSEs, AS and A levels is the fairest way of giving students an opportunity to move on in the unprecedented circumstances this year, with grades which carry value.

“Every grade students receive tomorrow has been based on teachers’ judgements – either wholly, or in combination with the statistics. For example, where adjustments were needed, students were moved up or down according to the centres’ views as to which students were closest to the grade boundary.

“The vast majority of the grades students receive will be the same as, or within one grade of, their centre’s grade. Adjustments were only made where necessary to bring consistency to the standards between schools and colleges. However, that moderation was essential to create a level playing for students.

“The system in place will give students the best estimate of the grade they would have achieved if exams had gone ahead and ensures they are not held back in their lives, despite the cancellation of exams. However, we recognise that any process for calculating grades may produce results that need to be reviewed, which is why we have put in place an appeals process. We believe this process is the fairest for all students in the circumstances.

“However, we understand why the government has wanted to provide some additional assurance for students, by confirming that evidence from valid mock exams can be considered as part of an appeal. We are working urgently to operationalise this as fairly as possible and to determine what standards of evidence will be required for the appeal. We will provide more detail early next week.

“We will continue to do everything possible to ensure students achieve grades that are as fair as possible in the circumstances this summer.”

Dr Gareth Healey, Senior lecturer at Swansea University Medical School:

“Whilst this A-Level results day will be unlike any other in some ways, the nervous anticipation and excitement that surrounds this day for students, their families and their teachers remains the same. As is the case at the beginning of every academic year, students will have to prepare to make the transition to university life and meet the new expectations of their chosen degree subject. 

“Incoming and returning students can expect a blended learning experience that combines essential in-person practical skills teaching and engaging online, multimedia content. A huge benefit of this approach is that it allows us to offer greater flexibility for our students, many universities will be extending in-person teaching hours to help facilitate social distancing in labs/tutorials which could prove invaluable for mature students and those with external commitments. Meanwhile, with online teaching students will have the option to revisit recorded content to help prepare for examinations/assessments and will also have access to 1:1 online sessions with tutors for additional support, at a time that suits them. 

“Universities and academic institutions across the country have spent the past few months preparing their campuses and crafting alternative solutions to ensure that they can continue providing uncompromised, quality teaching during COVID-19 times. For me and my colleagues, this has been an exciting opportunity to create and revise existing content to ensure it is both engaging and challenging for students, and has long-term potential. For example, outside of teaching we have been utilising GoTo Webinar to expand our university business network and now we are looking at ways that we can bring this technology into the classroom and utilise features such as live polling and attendance tracking. 

 “While some might be apprehensive about starting or continuing their education in this way, the blended learning approach offers an exciting opportunity, for staff and students alike, to re-define the university experience. We can engage and challenge each other in new ways, making the most of what today’s collaborative technology has to offer.”

Extensive support package for a full exam series in the autumn

The move comes as the Government also announces an extensive support package for all schools, colleges and further education providers to run a full exam series in the autumn.

Students who would like to use a valid mock result will be able to do so through the appeals process, with individuals notifying their school or college who will provide evidence of their mock results to their exam board.

As set out by Ofqual last week, schools and colleges will also be able to appeal if they believe their historic data does not reflect the ability of their current students – that may be because they have experienced a recent change in leadership or because they have one or a number of exceptional students.

For those wishing to try and improve their grades by taking exams in the autumn, the support package will help schools with the costs associated with running these exams including booking venues, sourcing invigilators, and meeting the cost of autumn exam fees if they exceed summer fee rebates.

Where it is not possible to run exams on their own premises without disrupting study, schools and colleges will either be able to book sites through the Department for Education at no cost, or arrange sites themselves and claim back those costs.

Schools and colleges will be able to use the Government’s specialist staffing and events agencies to book invigilators and sites from September as well as being able to claim back costs later in the autumn term.

While £30 million is being earmarked to deliver this support, funding will be demand-led and driven by the number of students who choose to sit exams.

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