Coronavirus: Ofqual launches consultation on 2020 calculated grade proposals

Ofqual is proposing pupils entered for exams in year 10 and below should now get calculated grades this summer.

The exams regulator has launched a 14-day consultation today on proposals to award pupils a calculated grade after exams were cancelled because of coronavirus.

The consultation covers several areas including now allowing pupils in year 10 or below to be given calculate grades, how the regulator should standardise grades, and how the appeals system should work.

Chief regulator Sally Collier said: “All those students, parents, teachers and others affected by these unprecedented circumstances can be assured that we will continue to work urgently, with stakeholders and representative bodies across the sector and officials in the Department for Education, to put in place the best possible arrangements on their behalf.”

The consultation can be viewed here. Here’s are key findings.


1. Regulator U-turns on year 10 ban

Ofqual had originally said only year 11 pupils will get calculated grades. However after representations from schools, students and parents over disruption caused by timetables and teaching arrangements for next year – Ofqual is now proposing those in year 10 and below who had been entered into exams this summer should get a grade.

The regulator admits this may be “unfair” on other year 10 students who chose not to take exams this year, but added “on balance … we now consider [it] the fairest option”.


2. Schools and pupils ‘may try to exploit’ new system

Schools will have to award each student the grade they “would most likely have received had the exams taken place”. Plus they must also rank each pupil within each grade and for each subject.

Ofqual states these should be “holistic judgments” informed by evidence including homework, mock exams and non-exam assessments.

But the regulator said they “recognise the possibility that some centres, students and others may try to exploit the exceptional arrangements we propose… including by seeking inappropriately to influence centre assessment grades or rank order information”.

Therefore, these judgments should not be shared with students or parents*, and attempts to influence them “may be investigated by an exam board and found to constitute malpractice, which may result in sanctions”.

*Ofqual said an exemption to subject access requests allow data controllers (exam boards or schools) to delay releasing personal data until either 40 days after results day or five months after the request – whichever is earlier (meaning parents will be able to access schools’ grades – just after results day).


3. Private candidates may have to sit exams in Autumn

Private candidates are those entered to take an exam with an approved centre, but haven’t been taught by the centre – such as those home schooled.

Exam boards will only be allowed to issue results for these pupils where the head of centre believes they can properly produce a centre-assessment grade and rank order.

For those that can’t, Ofqual says youngsters will have the opportunity to take exams at a future date – such as this autumn.

The regulator looked into allowing exam boards to use similar expected grade predictions from private tutors or parents for these pupils – but said this was would not work as they aren’t able to compare performance to that of pupils from previous cohorts, as schools can.

Furthermore, parents and tutors may be subject to “many of the pressures from which we have sought with out proposals to shield teachers when making those judgments”, Ofqual added.

The main advice at the minute for private candidates is to seek information about their options first of all from the centre they planned to take their exams with, and then the exams board.


4. Final grades will ‘more often differ from those submitted’ under favoured approach

Ofqual is proposing to standardise grades by looking at the historical outcomes for each centre, the prior attainment (key stage 2 or GCSE) of this year’s pupils and those in previous years within each school, and the expected national grade distribution for the subject.

The regulator said putting too much weight on teacher-assessed grades is “likely” to produce results that are “overall too lenient”. This is based on research showing when teachers predict grades for other purposes, such as university admissions, they tend to be generous more often than they are severe.

So they favour an approach placing more weight on statistical expectations that could determine the most likely distribution of grades for each centre (based on the criteria above), and then use the rank order to assign grades to individual pupils in line with the that grade distribution.

The regulator said this means the final calculated grades will “more often differ from those submitted”, but said advantages include a more consistent standard applied across schools which is “more likely to be fair”.


5. ‘Reservations’ over including projected improvement of turnaround schools

The regulator is also not keen on considering the trajectory of the school in its standardisation process (so any trends of improvement or deterioration of outcomes at individual schools in recent years).

Ofqual said it has “reservations” over using this data due to “potential unfairness caused by the unreliability of any trajectory predictions and the disadvantage that this might cause students in those centres with stable results”.


6. Teacher grades won’t be changed to take into account ‘unconscious bias’

Ofqual said it is “alert to concerns that unconscious bias could influence the grades schools and colleges might have expected their students to have achieved in the exams and assessments”.

However they say evidence suggests it would not “exceed that which might occur in other forms of assessment, for example when teachers mark non-exam assessments. We believe that in the circumstances, centre assessment grades are the most reliable way of ensuring students get the grade they need to progress this year.”

They add intervening to change teacher-assessed grades would be “unprecedented in the history of qualifications in England”.

However the regulator said its decision to standardise grades will “mitigate the effects of bias” as outcomes for schools would be “largely maintained from previous years”.

Plus they add the “deep technical detail” means the relative impact on schools with different characteristics (such as socio-economic status, special educational needs and disabilities, ethnicity and gender) will be “carefully considered and evaluated” by comparing difference in outcomes to those in previous years.


7. Appeals only allowed for exam board mistakes

Ofqual is proposing appeals can be made on the grounds that a mistake was made when the exam board standardised the grade. Appeals should be investigated by exam boards under a “streamlined process”.

They also propose a formal appeals process for centres concerned an error remains “unfound or uncorrected after any initial check”. As usual, the grade for a student could go down as well as up following an appeal.

Ofqual believes it’s “not meaningful or appropriate” for students to be able to appeal on the basis of their school’s grade judgment, or their ranking. They also don’t believe it’s fair for schools to appeal against the standardisation model.

They add pupils who believe they would have got a better grade had they taken their exams can resit in the additional autumn exams. Details on arrangements for the latter are yet to be published.


8. Autumn resits may not include all qualifications

Ofqual is undecided whether to require exam boards to make exams available in Autumn, rather than just permitting them.

The difference is that currently it’s down to exam boards if they want to make the exams available. If they choose not to run exams for some – it means that students in those qualifications won’t be able to resit until 2021.

But Ofqual said requiring boards to offer exams for qualifications in all subjects would put increased pressure on teachers who are also assessors in their first term back, as well as the costs for boards of providing exams where there are a small number of entries.

The regulator is also considering whether pupils who take resits in the autumn can discard an unfavourable result (so certificates will just show their best result).

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  1. David Creighton

    The Autumn Exams Series:
    We, in common with hundreds of other schools, do not have a sixth form, and so in the normal run of things our GCSE candidates would no longer be with us at the school.
    Would our GCSE candidates come back to us for the re-takes or would their colleges be required to enter them?
    I am exams officer at the Cavendish School Eastbourne

  2. Jotti Kaur JhAND

    I am a student myself and I feel that the number of students, not only across the country, but across the world will have felt the significant impact of not having our exams.

    In particular, I have been very affected from hearing the news that all GCSE and A-level Punjabi students from private organisations who were scheduled to take their exams in school centres this summer 2020, have been made victims through this predicament, when it is not even their fault!!! Instead of calculating predicted grades in the logical scenario, these students are having to suffer from something that is not they have no blame for. In fact, these students should all be entitled to also be receiving their calculated grades, instead of receiving nothing! They have all worked exceptionally hard to then receive this tragic and distressing news!

    The pandemic crisis we are currently in is already tough to manage whilst having to suddenly adapt in this new situation, and the least we could want is to have our futures secure with our realistic predicted grades being awarded to us, so we as students do not feel the burdened impact of the Coronavirus in the later coming years.

  3. I have a daughter currently in year 10. When she finally returns to school she will be sitting her GCSEs as she goes into year 11 in September ! She will have missed important education towards these GCSEs! So will this be taken into account when she sits her GCSEs . I know student i. Current year 11 are being awarded their predicted graces ( I know from previous experience a predicted grade and an actual grade can be a whole grade out my son was predicted a c. And got a d ! He resat it at school and at college both times he received a D ! ) there are pros and cons to the predicted grades but part of me feels the next years year 11 should also maybe get their predicted grades !??

  4. Catherine Brioche

    A’level students sitting the autumn exam series should not have their progression to university in 2020 impacted. A standard response by all universities is required in terms of procedures for admitting this student cohort. Students may wish to sit exams to guarantee acceptance into their first university of choice. However they should not loose out on their second choice if they do not perform well in exams. These are unprecedented times and normal process should apply in terms of university acceptance as it would have done if these students sat exams. Students will be under enormous pressure & many will now have to sit exams without teacher support & preparation & may also not have finished course material.