Written Evidence submitted by Ellesmere Port Catholic High School
For the attention of the Education Select Committee.
Ellesmere Port Catholic High School – Our concerns about the effect of cancelling formal exams, including the fairness of qualifications awarded and pupils’ progression to the next stage of education or employment.
The following quotes from Ofqual’s decisions for the exceptional arrangements for exam grading and assessment in 2020 are contradictory.
“Having considered all the options available to us in the circumstances of awarding grades in summer 2020, we have decided to adopt our proposal that the trajectory of centres’ results should not be included in the statistical standardisation process.”
“The statistical standardisation model should place more weight on historical evidence of centre performance (given the prior attainment of students) than the submitted centre assessment grades where that will increase the likelihood of students getting the grades that they would most likely have achieved had they been able to complete their assessments in summer 2020.”
We feel that if the approaches above are adopted many of our students will be unfairly penalised.
We believe the following questions need to be answered:
If a school’s trajectory is not taken into account then students who attend a school on an upward trajectory will be penalised, through no fault of their own, for the results of students from years gone by. Conversely, students attending a school on a downward trajectory will benefit unfairly due to the results of better performing students from the past.
Schools on an upward trajectory are likely to have put a lot of time and resources into securing those results over time. If this is not recognised then it is demoralising for the staff involved and more importantly unfair on the students who should have benefitted the work they have produced.
Please see below the concerns raised by one of our students who wrote to us on behalf of the rest of the cohort. Then see our response which was written prior to Ofqual’s announcements regarding the decisions for the exceptional arrangements for exam grading and assessment in 2020.
Dear Mr Laing,
I hope you are well and are coping with the lockdown.
I am writing to you on behalf of a group of year 11 students concerning the 2020 GCSEs and how they are being moderated by Ofqual. I am unsure if you are the correct person to contact about this, but I hope you will forward the message to the appropriate person. I do not want to write to any subject teachers about this, as to make clear that there are no intentions of interfering with the grades that they are submitting to the exam boards. I know we are all in the same boat at the minute but after reviewing the latest information about how grades will be calculated we have become concerned that the standardisation process is incredibly biased against students at our school, and many others like it).
(Quotations in this email are taken from an article detailing the whole process - https://news.sky.com/story/coronavirus-how-gcses-as-and-a-levels-will-be-graded-and-awarded-in-england-11988838 from Friday 15 May 2020 15:29, UK)
Firstly, we would like to thank all the school staff for their hard work in these trying times, and thank our subject teachers, we trust their judgment and have full confidence in them. Our issue is with how Ofqual and the exam boards are planning to standardise the submitted grades nationally. Although our submitted predicted grades will be decided based upon “homework assignments, mock exams and any other recorded pieces of the student’s performance”, these criteria are being thrown out of the window by Ofqual for the standardisation process, and are using different criteria to determine how the grades should be fine-tuned.
“Exam boards will then standardise the judgements once grades have been submitted. This will be done using a computer model drawing on:
It will not be determined by the individual student's previous grades.”
“The previous results from that school or college” – This is the primary cause for concern. We understand the rationale behind this, a school with consistently low results would be expected to produce lower grades than a school with consistently high results. This is reasonable in concept; however it is far too great a generalisation to actually determine students’ grades, as individual performance of students within the current year will not be reflected in the performance of previous years, and therefore it should not be used as criteria to judge us.
This is especially an issue for us because the government has deemed that this school is under-performing, which will likely taint our results. For example, let us say that in a certain subject there is a national over-saturation of grade 7s. A student from our school, and a student from a grammar school have both been predicted a 7 in this subject. The student from our school could have consistently scored better in exams, worked harder in class, and completed work to a higher standard than the grammar school student. However, this would not have been reflected in the grade, and they would be treated as equals by Ofqual. Then when the grades must be fine-tuned, the student from our school would be more likely to be downgraded than the grammar school student due to the school’s previous performance. This is deeply unjust as it does not reflect that students’ efforts, “It will not be determined by the individual student's previous grades.”, and they are being judged solely on their school. This serves to further disadvantage students from deprived backgrounds who already do not have the same opportunities as students who go to selective schools.
These students may have repeatedly achieved a grade in mock exams, and be awarded it by their teacher, and have it stripped from them simply because of the school that they attend. This is clearly unfair.
“The previous grades of that year’s students within the school or college” – This would not apply to GCSE students because we haven’t sat any external examinations, and our mock exams will not be submitted, “Will schools and colleges be asked to submit the evidence they have based grades on? - No, but they should keep records in case any queries arise.”, only reflected in our submitted grades, which are subject to change for unjust reasons outlined above.
We know that this is not the school’s decision, but we were hoping that you might be able to provide some clarity or assure us that the process will be fair as we may not have all the information. We are aware that we will have the opportunity to resit the exams in autumn, however we have still not finished some courses, and the time and effort we would have to give to sitting these exams in order to rectify any errors made in the standardisation process would have knock on effects to our A-Levels, college courses, or apprenticeships.
We would be grateful if you could contact us to confirm how this process works, to reassure us that the process will be fair and that we will get the grades we deserve.
(Signed by all students)
Thank you for your email. You have raised some very important issues and we fully understand your concerns. However, please be assured that we will do all we can to ensure that our students achieve the grades they deserve.
There was one part of the report that was overlooked. It states that ”The standardisation process will take into account whether the school or college made a recent improvement or downturn in performance.”
One of the key performance indicators for a school is a measure called Progress 8. Our school has worked very hard in recent years and you can see that we have made significant improvements and the Progress 8 measure shows that we are on an upward trend.
When staff were asked to provide the grades it was so important that every student was treated as an individual in each of their subjects. They used their professional judgement, backed up by evidence, so that every student received a fair grade. A grade the teacher feels they would have achieved had they sat the exams this summer.
We then looked at the grades collectively to check if they were in line with expectation. On the whole they were but in some cases grades were awarded that didn’t follow previous trends. For example, we may have had a student who demonstrated that they were able to achieve a grade at the highest level. The fact that students in the past had not achieved those grades was not an influencing factor. We agree that the results of the students this year should not be affected by the results of students in previous years. As such we stuck to that first principle of treating every student as an individual in each of their subjects and awarded the grades we believe they would have achieved, backed up by evidence.
It is difficult to say whether the grades we submit will be affected by external moderation. That depends very much on the mathematical modelling they use and to what extent the model takes into account a school’s historical performance or whether its performance in recent years is genuinely recognised.
Please be assured that, if following the external standardisation, we feel that results are affected unfairly, either individually or as a collective, we will challenge those decisions. We want, as you do, for every student to achieve fair results and that students are not disadvantaged through no fault of their own.
If there are further developments we will keep you informed through the school bulletin and if you would like to meet ‘face to face’ for a conversation we could arrange that through Microsoft Teams or Zoom.
We wish you and all our students every success this year and for the future.