Coronavirus: 2020 exam standardisation process will ignore school ‘trajectory’, Ofqual confirms

The “trajectory” of improving schools will not be taken into account when standardising GCSE and A-level results this year, Ofqual has confirmed.

The exams regulator said today that the standardisation process for centre-assessed grades this year “will not seek to reflect any trends in improvement or deterioration in a centre’s outcomes in a subject over previous years”.

Following the cancellation of GCSE and A-level exams this year, pupils will be awarded grades by their schools this year, which will then be standardised by exam boards.

Launching its consultation on the process earlier this year, Ofqual expressed “reservations” about the idea of taking recent improvement or deterioration of individual schools into account during the standardisation process.

And in its response to the consultation, released today, the regulator said it would proceed with plans to ignore them.

“While we recognise that it would be desirable if it were possible accurately to reflect centre trajectory in the issued calculated grades, we remain of the view that the lack of stability over a 3-year period in improvements or deteriorations in performance for the overwhelming majority of centres means that any statistical model is likely to be unacceptably unreliable in predicting trends in performance in 2020.”

The matter divided opinion among respondents to Ofqual’s consultation, with only 45 per cent agreeing with Ofqual’s stance, and 27 per cent objecting. Twenty-nine per cent said they neither agreed nor disagreed.

The regulator has also announced it place more weight on historical evidence of centre performance than 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”.

It comes after respondents “raised a range of concerns” including that such an approach would be unfair to students who may have excelled this year and whose grades would be affected by the poor performance of their predecessors.

However, Ofqual said this underlined the importance of the autumn examination series “as an opportunity for students disappointed with their results to show what they can do”.

“We believe, however, that placing more weight on centre assessment grades would be less likely to ensure that a consistent standard is applied across centres and so would be less likely to be fair to students overall.”

Ofqual has also decided to proceed with its proposal that exam boards will only have to consider appeals submitted by schools, not by individual pupils.

There will also be no providion for appeals “in respect of the operation or outcome of the statistical standardisation model”.

However, the regulator is also investigating whether it might be possible and appropriate to allow for appeals on that basis “where there is reliable evidence of a significant demographic difference between the centre’s cohort and the historical data used for statistical standardisation”.

It follows concerns that certain ethnic minority groups would suffer as a result of unconscious bias among teachers.

Sally Collier, chief regulator at Ofqual, said: “In the unprecedented circumstances we face this summer, these exceptional arrangements are the fairest way of making sure students have the grades they need in time to progress to further study or employment.”

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  1. Dennis Sherwood

    I read this after having just heard a reporter on the 7 pm Channel 4 news say “This year’s grades will be based on teachers’ assessments”, implying that the grades that are actually awarded will be these teacher assessments.

    But this piece says “pupils will be awarded grades by their schools this year, which will then be standardised by exam boards”, suggesting that something happens at the boards which might change the original teacher grades. In which case the grades that the students actually receive are not those as determined by teacher assessments, but the “outcome of the statistical standardisation model” (whatever that is!).

    So I’m puzzled. Are the grades that are actually awarded the assessments of teachers, or the results of some big-machine-in-the-sky? And who is ultimately responsible for those grades: the teachers or the ‘machine’?

    • Adam Mason

      You assume rightly that the teachers grades could and in some cases will be changed. Once again it shows a lack of trust in the integrity of teachers and schools.
      The problem is accountability tables and OFSTED. Even though these results will not be used by OFSTED they will be published. Some schools might slightly inflate the settings results although evidence shows that teacher assessment grades are generally harsher.
      If trust in the profession from government was restored we could use systems like this across all year groups and save millions if not billions which could go into improving education.
      I live in hope.

    • Ronnie

      It’s a mixed one, so the teachers will award grades the individual students and submit a rank for each student against the whole cohort. This will then be standardise by ofqual using the historic data of the centre i.e. the grades achieved by past students for last 3 years.
      So it’s very highly likely that all the grades would be standardise.
      For example let’s say a cohort of A level physics and the cohort has 12 students and the teacher gives 1 A* 1 A 2 B 3 C 4 D 1 E.
      But the data from last three year shows that the lowest grade was an U and the highest grade was an A and only one or two student get that grade.
      So ofqual will pull the A* down to an A and might pull the A down to B and subsequently other grades in rank order. Even tough the teacher thinks that the student is capable of an A* or the 4 mock exam shows that he achieved an A*. But ofqual will go with the historic data of the centre and unfortunately the A* candidate would be pull down to an A and an A to a B. But as their would be ranking so the student will still be at the top of the rank would not get the grade his teacher would have given it.
      This is hard to digest but ofqual has come down to this.

  2. C Barnet

    Teacher assessed…..what a joke. In no way, shape or form are these the grades my students will receive. Where historic outcomes were weak, students this year will be given grades ‘in line with previous outcomes’.
    For Ofqual to insinuate that grades are ‘Teacher assessed’ is a bitter pill we are expected to swallow, in silence. There is nothing honest about aligning results with previous cohorts. Teachers welcome moderation and standardisation to maintain accuracy. Yet again our professional integrity is shamefully crushed and belittled.

  3. Elaine Latter

    I find this whole situation disappointing.

    I have several students who had improved greatly, in a short time, from additional tuition.
    Their grades would have improved by at least one level by the time they took exams and now they will be stuck with a grade their teachers think they are capable of and not what they would have achieved in the extra 2-3 months with my additional tutoring.
    My input is not even being concidered!
    Such a shame.

    I am sure there could have been some form of exam taken! Social distancing in an exam hall is essential practice anyway! At least that way students would have been able to show their skills.

  4. H DUONG

    For many schools, the number of entries for each A level subject is too small for statistical modelling to make sense. Last year, my son’s school had 5 students taking Further Maths, of whom two got A*, two got A and one got E. Clearly, whether you get A* or E depends on you a lot more than on the school’s quality of teaching or demographics. This year there are 7 students in this year’s Further Maths cohort. No historical model can say whether predicting 1 A* or 5 A*s for this year is too severe or too generous.