This year's A-level grades in England will be subjected to a 'triple lock' process as pupils are promised their exam grades will be no lower than their mock exam grades.
Last night's announcement means that A-level and GCSE pupils can either accept a grade based on teacher estimations which have been put through an Ofqual system to ensure they’re standardised, or appeal and change it for a mark gained in a mock exam. The third option is to take their exams in Autumn.
It comes after protests in Scotland against the standardisation model after 124,564 exam grades were downgraded. It led to a decision to switch to using teachers' predicted grades.
In England, the standardisation model remains in place. It begins with an assessed grade provided by a student’s school, based on work completed and previous exam scores. Teachers will also rank each student by performance.
This data, together with the school’s historical performance, will go to the exam boards who will apply a standardisation model designed by exam regulator Ofqual to ensure grading consistency nationwide.
Ofqual has made clear that its model will place more weight on the statistical expectations (such as a school’s previous results), rather than teacher grades. There will be a few exceptions where teacher predictions will be the “primary source” of evidence – these include new schools, which do not have historic data.
In part this is aimed at addressing rumours that some centres are “marking up”, explains a spokesperson from Ofqual. “As such, if centre assessment grades were not statistically standardised, we would see results for 2020 that were, on average, 12 percentage points better than in 2019 at A-level; with greater peaks at some key grades such as 4 (at GCSE) and B (at A-level).
“Improvement on such a scale in a single year has never occurred and to allow it would significantly undermine the value of these grades for students.”
But in the face of the Scottish protests, education secretary Gavin Williamson said the extra link would be a 'safety net' and could be used in such instances as when schools felt that the historical data used in the standardisation process was not accurate, or when bright pupils in under performing schools felt the data was unfair.
The government has not changed the appeals process, which requires the school, not the pupil, to appeal. -
The other controversy lies in the fact that Ofqual is reluctant to publish details until results day of how it intends to standardise grades, although the regulator has suggested that, even after standardisation, results could be higher than last year, with an increase of 1pc for GCSEs across the grades and around 2pc for A-levels.
Philip Nye, a researcher at FFT Education Datalab, says that one problem has been knowing how to make these judgments as fair as possible – when teachers think a student is straddling two grades, they are more likely to decide on a higher grade.
“Teachers, schools and colleges have come up with these grades without very much instruction on how to do it,” says Nye.
This year’s procedure could result in some students achieving higher or lower grades than they would otherwise, which isn’t ideal Nye says, but is the best alternative to the difficult situation at hand. “A lot is being asked of teachers, schools and colleges. We’re in a case of the least worst solution,” he says.
Other experts are worried. Nick Hillman, director of Hepi, the UK’s only independent think tank devoted to higher education, warns that 2020’s grades will matter for the rest of a person’s life, even if they get into a top university.
“Some people think that once you’ve got a degree previous qualifications stop being taken into account, but that’s just not how employers work generally,” he says. “Sometimes you meet young people who have been given an unconditional offer from a university who stop trying hard in their A-levels and that is possibly the worst mistake you can make as they stay on your CV.
“Even if you’ve got a good 2:1 from a Russell Group university, if you’ve got ropy A-level results that’s going to set you back a little bit relative to other people later on. In 20 years’ time, if someone who’s leaving school this year applies for a job versus someone who leaves school next year, they’re not going to be given special treatment.”
- Are you concerned about A-level results? Do you expect the new system to provide fair results? Share your thoughts on A-level exams being interrupted in the comments section below