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Awarding of student grades: Committee writes to Secretary of State with concerns over the alternative arrangements for 2021

25 March 2021

The Education Committee has written to Gavin Williamson to raise concerns about the alternative arrangements being put in place for awarding grades this summer, following the cancellation of exams due to the pandemic.

The Committee has a number of areas of concern:

  1. Grade inflation

The package of measures risks much higher grade inflation this summer, even beyond what was seen last August. This could create difficulties for the thousands of students chasing college and further and higher education places. The Government should set out what it is doing to ensure employers do not penalise these cohorts in the job market, and publish a route map of its plan to revert back to “normal” grading standards.

  1. Lack of standardisation of assessments

Without standardised assessments and with a lack of external assessors to provide the checks and balances to guarantee fairness, there is every possibility of inconsistent approaches to grading, potentially creating a “Wild West” of grades this summer.

  1. Sampling of teacher assessments

It is concerning that Ofqual did not appear to have a clear measure of the amount of sampling of teacher assessed grades that should take place to shore up public confidence. The DfE must clarify this as soon as possible.

  1. Fees being charged to schools and colleges

If external markers are not to be used and the boards are not doing extensive external checks, then the DfE must indicate what fee reductions should be offered to schools and colleges by exam boards.

  1. Impact on disadvantaged groups

The alternative arrangements could have a detrimental impact on disadvantaged groups. Allowing students advanced sight of ‘exam’ questions on which teachers will base their grades could allow students who are better supported at home to prepare their answers and perform better. Ofqual and the awarding bodies must also ensure this summer’s measures guard against any conscious or unconscious bias in assessments.

Chair's comments

Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP, Chair of the Education Committee, said:

“The proposed replacement measures for exams this summer risk being too inconsistent across schools and colleges and beg the question whether there will be a level playing field for pupils and public confidence in assessments. There are concerns that there will be a Wild West in grading and ever-increasing grade inflation. Of course, there are no easy answers given what has happened with Covid. However, the DfE and Ofqual should consider some kind of standardised assessment and a more robust way of validating teacher assessed grades.” 

The letter follows on from a session with Schools Minister Nick Gibb and Ofqual on 9th March.

Further information

Image: PA