School leaders’ union ASCL wants next year’s grades to be pegged back to pre-Covid standards, warning it is “difficult to justify… baking in” higher results.
General secretary Geoff Barton told members there is no “easy answer” but the union “felt that returning to the grade distribution of 2019 represented the fairest approach for past, present and future students”.
A decision on grading standards for next summer will be announced in October, officials confirmed today. It follows two years of teacher assessed grades which has led to soaring results.
Barton said it would be “difficult to justify” continuing with inflated results if exams do return as expected. Doing so would “bake in” higher grades “with various problems around the resulting perception of the value of other grades and differentiation at the top end”.
Another mooted proposal is to “glide” back over a few years to 2019 standards, but Barton said this would mean “in each of those years the grading pattern would be set at arbitrary points with resulting unfairness to successive cohorts of students and enormous confusion”.
Under ASCL‘s recommendation, pupils would receive the same proportion of grades in each subject as 2019, but they would not be held to the same “standard”.
Barton acknowledged the proposal may “raise concerns about fairness” to this year’s exam cohort who have suffered “extreme disruption”.
But he said: “The question of fairness in exams taken next summer lies not in awarding higher grades than in 2019 but in putting in place appropriate adaptations to the papers themselves to mitigate for learning loss.”
The recommendation has been approved by ASCL council, a policy-making body consisting of serving school and college leaders.
Ian Bauckham, Ofqual’s interim chair, said the regulator is tasked with ensuring fairness for students taking exams next year, while also being “acutely cognisant of the risks associated with baking in the grade inflation”.
He added there was “no strong consensus on grading” standards from employment organisations they met on Monday.
“There was one view that spoke of the advantages of getting back to 2019 grading standards sooner rather than later, there were other views that said depending on the way that the pandemic pans out it might be a staged return to 2019 standards will be a better approach.”
A report by former Department for Education adviser Sam Freedman called for exam grades to be permanently rebased on 2020 levels.
Freedman said moving back to 2019 grading would be “unfair” on this year’s exam cohort, who will have to compete for university places and jobs with students from the 2020 and 2021 cohorts, despite having suffered “more learning loss”.
But Barton said their recommendation “strengthens our argument that 2021 results did not represent grade inflation or centres acting unethically, but was because a fundamentally different form of assessment was used”.