From education to employment

Labour seeks urgent assurances over exams results

Kate Green MP, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary

@KateGreenSU, @UKLabour’s Shadow Education Secretary, has today written to @GavinWilliamson, the Education Secretary, to demand urgent clarifications for parents and children who are worried that their exam results will not be reflective of the hard work they have put into their education but instead set by a computer algorithm based on their schools’ prior attainment.

In a letter sent to the Education Secretary earlier, Kate Green called on the Government to ensure that inequalities in the education system are not further entrenched by the standardisation methodology being used which “will draw on the historical outcomes of a centre” and that pupils do not have their life chances negatively impacted.

This comes following analysis of Scottish Higher results which showed that the standardisation model used by the Scottish Qualifications Authority led to children from disadvantaged backgrounds having their results reduced at more than double the level of their more affluent peers.

Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary also demanded the Government provide a fair and accessible system for appeals, ensuring students get the requisite support to navigate the process.

Labour has previously called on the Government in July to ensure that this year’s assessments are fair, accessible, and accountable. The Party has also warned the Government in response to the Education Select Committee report on calculated grades that they must urgently act to ensure that young people from ethnic minority and disadvantaged backgrounds do not lose out under this system.

Kate Green MP, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, said:

“Yesterday’s disastrous handling of Highers results in Scotland shows what can go wrong when computer algorithms drive students’ grades, and politicians wash their hands of responsibility.

“With A-level results just over a week away, and GCSE results due the week after, it’s imperative the Government acts now to reassure worried students, teachers and parents. Young people deserve to have their hard work assessed on merit, but the system risks baking in inequality and doing most harm to students from disadvantaged backgrounds, those from Ethnic Minority groups and those with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities.

“Ministers must urgently set out how they’ll ensure the results next week will not exacerbate existing inequalities, and what extra support they’ll give to students who feel they’ve been unfairly graded to navigate the appeals process.”

Letter from Kate Green to the Secretary of State for Education:

Dear Gavin

I am writing to you to seek urgent assurances ahead of upcoming results days in England over the next two weeks that the process will treat students fairly. Yesterday’s Higher results in Scotland, which saw nearly a quarter of all the recommended results for school pupils this year downgraded by the Scottish Qualifications Authority, show all too clearly the challenges of a teacher assessment and standardisation approach. The experience in Scotland is now impacting on teacher and student confidence ahead of next week’s A level results, and GCSE results the following week. I hope you will act to address this as a matter of urgency.

The first issue of concern is the potentially disproportionate event impact on different demographics. 

Analysis of the comparison between teacher estimates and the statistical moderation used to calculate the Scottish results has shown a reduction of 15.2 per cent in the most deprived communities, compared to just 6.9 per cent in the most affluent areas – entrenching inequality for those from the poorest backgrounds and areas.

All students deserve to receive grades on their own merit and not a computer algorithm. It is therefore vital that students, teachers and parents understand the way in which results will primarily be determined, and how a balance is to be achieved between performance at centre level and consideration of students’ individual performance.

If the eventual results are determined primarily at centre level, there is a significant danger that inequality will be baked into the system, as students will be judged on their schools’ prior attainment and not on individual merit. This was confirmed last month by Ofqual who said “standardisation will draw on the historical outcomes of a centre”. So what protections are the Government putting in place to ensure the attainment gap doesn’t continue to grow this year? What steps will be taken to address unequal outcomes for students from Black and Ethnic Minority backgrounds, those on free school meals and other groups who are likely to be disadvantaged by this methodology?

The centre level standardisation model negatively impacts on improving schools. The trajectory of a school’s recent performance will not be taken account, but this will significantly penalise fast-improving schools – so what measures are you implementing to ensure that their turnaround is recognised?

Second, there remain serious concerns about the appeals process.

Should large numbers of results be downgraded or assessed at a level lower than a student was predicted due to the standardisation model, what support will they be given for a fair and accessible process of appeals? Students will be concerned and upset should they receive results lower than they are expecting and will need access to expert advice to navigate this process. They will need to be able to identify process failures by the centres, and will particularly struggle to evidence bias. It is of concern that centres have not been required to make a specific equalities statement, and that they have received only a ‘reminder’ of their duties under equalities law, and ‘suggestions’ about how they might use data from previous years to indicate any systematic tendency to under or over predict likely performance that is associated with students’ particular protected characteristics. 

Could you therefore confirm what resources government will make to support students who wish to access the appeals process? And what reassurance can you give to students, schools and families that the process will be transparent and address inherent bias in the system, particularly for Black and Minority Ethnic students, but also those on free school meals, looked after children, and those with SEND?

We know that young people have gone through considerable challenges over the past few months and their education has been severely disrupted. This year’s system of assessment risks creating winners and losers, and some children in schools that have been improving are those who could lose out the most. To ensure that no young person’s life chances are further impacted by coronavirus, should providers of post-16 and post-18 education be flexible when making offers and decisions affecting these young people, so they do not lose out due to factors far beyond their control?

Nicola Sturgeon has failed a generation of young Scots by ensuring that the inequality and attainment gap has been further entrenched through her failure to act on the injustice of the moderation system. We cannot allow that to happen here in England next week.

I therefore seek your urgent reassurance that you and your Government will not allow similar results to occur in England and that students and their families can be confident of getting the results their time and hard  work deserve.

Yours sincerely

Kate Green MP

Shadow Education Secretary

Related Articles