2021 assessment materials to be published online after Easter, DfE confirms

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Additional assessment materials provided by exam boards to help teachers award grades this summer will be published online after the Easter holidays, the government has confirmed, prompting fears the move could unfairly benefit more privileged students.

Ofqual and the Department for Education confirmed last month that use of the additional materials based on past papers and unpublished questions would be optional.

The materials will be sent to schools, along with guidance on how to award grades, at the end of this month.

But during a webinar on the plan for the summer, Rebekah Edgar, the DfE’s deputy director for 2021 Qualifications, said the materials would also be published openly after Easter so “students and others can access them”.

She added that the publication was being delayed until after Easter “to try and avoid students sort of cramming with them over the holidays which we didn’t think was a healthy thing we wanted to encourage”.

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A slide from the webinar

Cath Jadhav, from Ofqual, said the materials would be on “publicly available websites as opposed to behind the secure extranet that only teachers and centres can access”.

The move to publish the materials, which was first mooted in the DfE and Ofqual’s consultation on their plans, has prompted concerns.

Stuart Lock, CEO of Advantage Schools, warned the system would “maximally benefit those who are privileged”.

“If you wanted to design a system that benefits those who already have advantages from birth, you’d start by cancelling exams and end by showing candidates the assessments they will take.

“I don’t know many people, but I’ve spoken to people at (largely low levels) the DfE, two exam boards, Ofqual and Ofsted and none of them want to exacerbate the gap, so how has this happened?”

Sam Freedman, a former DfE adviser, said the “whole thing is a car crash”.

The DfE and Ofqual’s joint consultation in January proposed that if schools used the exam board papers or created their own, they should be used within a set period of time.

This was proposed because of a “risk that students taking the papers later in the window might be at an advantage, particularly if the content of the papers is leaked”.

This risk could be reduced if exam boards created a menu of papers from which teachers would choose, the consultation suggested.

It also suggested the papers could be “deliberately published” shortly before the assessment window opened, although students would not know which ones they would be required to complete.

In response to a question on whether exam boards should publish all of their papers before the assessments “in order to manage the risk of some students being advantaged through papers being leaked”, 39 per cent strongly agreed while 27 per cent agreed.

Seventeen per cent neither agreed or disagreed while eight percent disagreed and nine per cent strongly disagreed.

But in their decision document published last month, the DfE and Ofqual said teachers’ assessment should take place as late as practicable but “not be confined to a specific window of time to give teachers as much flexibility as possible”.

They recognised there would be “little to be gained” if materials that were largely based on past papers or questions that “are already in the public domain”.

Today, an Ofqual spokesperson said they decided the materials should be published in this way as once they have been “made available to teachers it will not be possible to stop them being leaked, particularly once they start to be used”.

“Some students would then have early access to the materials – giving them an unfair advantage while disadvantaging others.”

They added that a “wide range” of questions will be made available, so while students will be able to access them all, they won’t know which ones their school will use.

The DfE and the Joint Council for Qualifications have also been contacted for comment.

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  1. Richard Laszcz

    As one who has taught for 37 years, I cannot believe this!
    Assessment done online have proved to be difficult to control with, sadly, a few students “cheating” which massively disadvantages the honest, hard-working student who is trying to do their best.
    Covid testing and a staggered return means that the students have only been properly settled in for a week or so. At our school, we have told them they will be sitting assessments under controlled conditions straight after Easter. We would use the “secure” materials to make it fair on everyone. What are we supposed to do now? Tell them their exam has been brought forward to next week? What on Earth do Ofqual and DfE think they are doing?

  2. V DElia

    This is madness. The whole system has been put to ruin. Totally illogical and poorly thought out. Let us just give all GCSE students 9’s and “A” level students A*

  3. Huy Duong

    The reason the PM gave for cancelling exams and replacing it with exceptional arrangements was that students who are less able to work at home won’t be disadvantaged. It’s not clear how this helps in that aim because students who are less able to work at home (eg those with difficult home circumstances) will be less able to benefit from the publication of the assessment materials (eg than those who have extra out of hours lessons, private tutors and parents to help them revise). I wonder if Ofqual remembers what the original aims were.

  4. Steve Edwards

    Your article is wrong when you say, “In response to a question on whether exam boards should publish all of their papers before the assessments…”.
    The question you reference asked if respondents agreed whether exam boards should publish their papers SHORTLY before the assessments. The word shortly (which you have omitted) is crucial here, as almost everyone I have spoken to thought the question was designed to determine the point at which the papers would be published for teachers, and they wanted this to be as late as possible to limit the potential for leaks.

  5. GCSE Student

    This is atrocious, and should be taken as proof that the government does not care about education and exam years. This decision will result in unfair grades (students with private tutors will be advantaged), mass inflation of grades like never seen before, and the complete disregard of hardworking students who actually deserve top grades and can achieve them, in favour of students with good memories and teachers willing to leak the questions. I am so disappointed, and I don’t know what to do about my GCSEs now since the qualification has clearly lost all value if the government continues to disregard us. I am shocked.

  6. Angela Edlin

    I don’t understand why the DfE’s deputy director thinks it would be unhealthy to cram for the specific questions over the Easter holidays rather than cram the whole course over the Easter holidays for assessments which are a month earlier than would usually be expected. Normally if students want good grades they start studying early (at Easter, Christmas or even September of the previous year) and put in an hour or three per day so they cover all the work several times and have time left for practice questions. They have been told exams are cancelled but really they have been brought forward so there is less time to secure the knowledge they need. I have a child in year 11 and one in year 13; I work with children in another school. I just want them to get the grades that they would in a normal year so they can get on the courses that they want next year.

  7. Parent

    Ofqual should be ashamed.
    They had a chance to sort this last summer.
    State schools aren’t being fair either with ‘evidence/tests’ being sat with full access to google/parents/phones/friends ’ don’t be under any illusion what IS happening. Private schools may fear more investigation hence harsher conditions –

  8. The government have failed students yet again with this years decision for A levels & GCSEs. Not only did they have no clue what they were doing up until the end of February, they brought exams forward. This means that students have had notice since only the start of March to revise for exams that will their impact grades and be the primary deciding factor as to which university they will get into. As an A level student myself, my workload has increased massively. Within a 2 month period of time I am expected to attend lessons, complete 15 exams (over double the amount I had to do for the original A levels) and revise all content for my business course as well as reduced content for my other subjects. I have tried to reason with my teachers, as particularly my business teacher, who has set an impossible amount of revision for exams, but they are more worried about protecting themselves from appeals or possible queries from exam boards than students own well-being and grades. Overall my mental health has never been impacted so badly by exam stress, I just hope the government can see what they are doing to thousands of students who are all being made ill through these terribly thought out ‘mini assessments’.

  9. Mogadishu Militant

    I personally am a big fan of the government’s valiant efforts to award the students the best and fairest grades possible. You cannot fault them.