Last week @Ofqual announced our plans for making sure students taking GCSEs, AS and A levels, as well as extended project qualifications and the advanced extension award in maths, get grades this summer. We published information for teachers, heads of department and heads of centre, a message to students and some guidance which gives answers to common questions.
In summary, we’re asking schools and colleges to do 2 things for each of their students:
First, to make a judgement about the grade that each student was most likely to have achieved, if they had taken their exams in summer 2020. To do this, they will take account of all available evidence including school and college records, mock exams, and non-exam assessment (NEA) that a student has done.
Second, to rank each student relative to others for who they also judge would have got the same grade. For example, if they judge that 8 students would have been most likely to achieve a grade B at A level or a grade 4 at GCSE, they should rank those 8 students from 1 (the most secure/most likely to achieve the grade) to 8 (the least secure/least likely).
Those judgements should be holistic, based on the range of evidence that schools and colleges have. So students shouldn’t worry about one disappointing mock exam result, if their NEA work wasn’t finished or they haven’t been able to complete to their usual standard – or at all - any work set after schools and colleges closed. Schools and colleges should take all the evidence into account and come to a balanced view.
While schools and colleges do not routinely work in this way, teachers are highly experienced at making assessment decisions and evidence shows they can rank order their students with a high degree of accuracy. Many will already be familiar with ranking students where they do this in subjects with NEA.
Of course, there are some circumstances in which rank ordering will be more challenging – such as in large schools and colleges or in those where students are very similar in terms of performance. We are exploring with exam boards how more support can be given to these centres and we also welcome the professional leadership being shown in centres at this time.
The rank order is an important aspect of standardising grades across schools and colleges. It means if adjustments are necessary to account for more generous or harsh judgements, exam boards can make these more precisely, for just a few students, rather than whole centres or classes.
It’s really important that schools’ and colleges’ submissions are as accurate as possible – the standardisation process will detect overly generous or harsh judgements, whether unintended or otherwise. We’ll be consulting soon on the principles that will underpin exactly how this will all work, so that the standardisation process is the best it can be in delivering the fairest outcomes.
Centre assessment grade judgements need to be made objectively. This is particularly important in addressing the concerns some may have about the possibility for bias in this process and its potential impact on some groups of students, or those with certain characteristics.
Our overriding priority is to ensure that students are rewarded for their hard work. We are sensitive to the research evidence in this area and we are working hard to make this summer’s grading process as fair as possible. We will shortly be publishing an equalities impact assessment of the approach we propose to take this summer as it is crucial that we consider the impact on protected groups in the current circumstances.
The centre assessment grades and the rank orders will need to be discussed and agreed within subject departments in schools and colleges, and signed off by at least two teachers, including the head of department. And before the data is submitted to the exam board, the Head of Centre will also need to sign off the grades and rank orders.
Teachers and heads of department know their students, and they are best placed to make these judgements. We know they are currently working in difficult circumstances and so we urge students and parents not to seek to influence this important task. Schools and colleges will not release grades or rank orders to students, parents or carers, so please don’t ask them to.
We think the approach we set out last week is the fairest in the circumstances. However, it is a new approach and so there are still some details to be agreed. Exam boards are working to adapt their IT systems to collect the data and we are working on the detail of the statistical standardisation approach.
A new approach means that some of our rules need to be changed to capture these unprecedented arrangements. For example, we have a rule that requires exam boards to award grades based only on evidence from exams and non-exam assessments, so that will have to be changed for summer 2020.
And we need to devise new arrangements for things like appeals, and the principles of statistical standardisation; to continue to explore alternative options for private candidates who need results this summer to progress and for whom a centre assessment grade is not possible; and consider plans for Year 10 students.
So we will shortly publish a detailed consultation on a variety of changes to our rules, and revised approaches, to deliver the fairest results for students in the current exceptional circumstances.