Coronavirus: Schools will rank GCSE and A-level pupils within grades

Schools will rank their GCSE and A-level pupils within each grade under a new system of assessment drawn up for this summer.

Following the announcement that all exams this academic year have been cancelled due to the coronavirus, Ofqual has released details of the standardised assessment process that will take their place.

Guidance released by the exams regulator today explains that schools will be asked to provide both a centre grade in each subject for each pupil and a rank order of pupils within each grade. Schools have been told they have at least eight weeks to prepare the information.

The rank order will help determine which pupils move between grades during the standardisation process, which will be run by the exam boards in order to ensure that pupils are not disadvantaged by generous or severe assessment.

Ofqual is confident that the moderation process will pick up any schools that have submitted inflated grades.

Schools have been told to issue grades based on what each pupil is most likely to have achieved if they had sat their exams this summer, based on various pieces of evidence, including progress review data, classwork, mock exams and the school’s previous results.

However, they have been warned against setting extra work for pupils in order to help them determine their grades, and to “exercise caution” when considering work completed since schools closed on March 20.

Sally Collier, Ofqual’s chief regulator said school-based assessment “already has an important role in many GCSEs, AS and A levels, and in extraordinary circumstances such as these, schools and colleges are best placed to judge the likely performance of their students at the end of the course”.

“We have worked closely with the teaching profession to ensure that what we are asking is both appropriate and manageable, so that everyone can have confidence in the approach. I would like to take this opportunity to thank teachers and school leaders for making this process work for students during these very challenging times.”

The guidance has been welcomed by the NAHT headteachers’ union. Its general secretary, Paul Whiteman, said that “whilst there is not a perfect solution, this is pragmatic and the fairest approach to take in these exceptional circumstances”.

“Of course, this is not a seamless solution. Students will have been expecting to go through a very different process. However, their grades will now be determined by the professionals who know them best; professionals who are well-equipped to make these judgments, and we hope that gives students confidence that they are in safe hands.

“Where pupils are not content, appeals are possible and autumn exams are being discussed.”

The school assessment process will apply to all pupils in year 11 upwards, including year 12s taking their A-levels early. However, Ofqual is proposing that the process will not apply to year 10s , as they will have a chance to take exams in future years before moving on to the next stage of their education.

The regulator will consult on this matter “shortly”.

Ofqual has also warned that some pupils who are home-educated or conducting distance learning may also not receive grades this summer, even if they need them to move on.

“We are urgently exploring whether there are alternative options for students who need results this summer to progress and for whom a centre assessment grade is not possible,” Ofqual said today.

“It may, unfortunately, be necessary for some to take exams in the autumn or next summer to get their grades.”

The regulator is also expected to release further information soon about its plans for appeals this year, after confirming the existing arrangements “will not apply”.

Pupils who feel their summer grades do not reflect their ability will also be given the opportunity to take exams, either in autumn or next summer.

Schools have also been told that they must not “under any circumstances” share assessment grades or rank orders with pupils, their parents or carers, or “any other individuals outside the centre” before final results have been issued.

Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, said: “Despite the difficult circumstances we are facing, this guidance provides assurance to students, parents and schools that grades awarded this summer will accurately reflect students’ abilities and will be as valid this year as any other.”