Dame Glenys Stacey on the 2021 exams: 8 things we learnt


Ofqual’s interim chief regulator Dame Glenys Stacey was quizzed by MPs this morning on the plans for exams next year.

It comes as the government announced extra measures last week for students, including more generous grades and advance notice of topics.

We take a look at some of the key points from the education select committee…


1. Going straight back to 2019 grades in future years ‘unfair’

Stacey said her personal view on the generosity of grades for 2022 exams was that it “wouldn’t be fair” to students to move “straight back” to 2019 standards.

But she added there’s a discussion to be had on the next academic year.

“We need to see how the pandemic washes through so we can have the broad discussion about where standards are set for 2022,” she said.

“I do think it would be a mistake for us to think now we are in a particular position for 2021 therefore it stays the same. I think it’s absolutely right to see how schools are affected to collect the data and reach a position for 2022.”


2. Exam tweaks will give disadvantaged pupils a ‘leg up’

Stacey admitted that redressing disadvantage is “beyond qualifications”, but said Ofqual is “very certain” this year that the exam changes mean they are not contributing to it, and may be redressing it “to some extent”.

She gave the example of using a formula sheet in maths or science.

“The brightest and most well off, the most well supported student will already know the formula, but the disadvantaged student may not. It is a leg up in a way. Yes, you’ve still got to know how to deploy it and those using the qualification will want to know that, but at least you’ve had that start.”

Similarly on advance notice of topics, she said: “The disadvantaged student may not have been taught well across the range of the subject, but with notification in late January, early February of what to focus on, he or she has then got four months to really do that.”


3. ‘Big ask’ to get extra exam markers

Stacey acknowledged that the exam boards are going to have to recruit extra markers to get marking done in the time available, now the series has been pushed back three weeks.

She said teachers – who make up most markers – will be feeling “dog tired” and “may well yearn for a rest and not be that willing to put themselves out over the summer”.

“Yet teachers are the bulk of markers. I know it’s going to be a really big ask actually this year and I think the government, Ofqual and the exam boards must take every step they can to make that possible.”


4. ‘Don’t prepare portfolio of evidence for validation’, schools told

For pupils who are unable to sit any exams next year (including reserve papers), teachers will be able to use validated teacher informed assessment.

But Stacey urged schools “not to do anything now” for this, adding that validation is a “much lighter touch” than moderation.

“Schools and teachers do not need to start building portfolios of evidence now, not at all. If we do end up in this position it will be an opt in approach for students and it will be something at the time rather than built on performance now because that’s not fair for students if we start doing that now.”

She added she does not see any prospect of them “relying on retrospectively on work undertaken by students”.

“Students tell us they regard that as unfair because at the time they were doing that work they were not doing it for the purpose of assessment. It is not the right answer.”

5. Ofqual needs to know of ‘worst-case scenario’ changes by spring term

Stacey was asked what preparations are Ofqual making if we have to deal with “a worst case scenario”.

She’s written to the education secretary Gavin Williamson to say if there’s “any notion” of them moving away from exams on a “large scale” they would need to know “pretty early in the spring term to do more comprehensive arrangements”.

“We do have an exam timetable that’s planned carefully to make sure that even if you are off for a fortnight you can still take an assessment and we can rely on that assessment.”


6. Traffic light rating system for differential lost learning?

Stacey said today one solution for varied lost learning, which Ofqual has suggested to ministers, is for teachers in individual subjects to “make some evaluation of that. It would need to be kept straight forward in order to be doable… [you] might be able to rate that in some way, RAG [red-amber-green] rate it or something”.

But she said it should not be “imported” into a pupil’s grade, nor sit on their qualification certificate.

She added this was a “big job” for the expert group set to find a solution, as well as higher and further education providers in “recognising the unique experience that each student is having here, but we do need to protect what an examination and qualification is about”.

Read more on this suggestion here.


7. ‘Prestigious’ unis wanted return to 2019 grades

Stacey said that there is broadly no public support to “pegging” this year’s exams results to 2019 grades. The government has decided that grading will be more generous than usual, in line with national outcomes from 2020.

She said: “A very small number of higher education institutions – the most prestigious I would say – did suggest 2019, but not in any great earnest.

“There was no suggestion from them that they would not be comfortable with us having the approach that we are adopting. Whereas there was an overall quite compelling feeling across all of those we spoke to by far the vast majority supported the stance we are taking.”

8. Tips for her successor? Be more visible

As interim chief regulator, Stacey will only be in post until the end of this year. She was appointed after Sally Collier left following the exams fiasco.

Asked by the committee what her advice would be to her successor, she said they should make sure they’ve “got the stamina for it” and that they should “really get into the technical detail”.

She said they should “learn from 2020”, adding: “For example I don’t think Ofqual was particularly visible in 2020. It had a rather established way of sort of communicating.

“We need to be much more visible and much more interested in listening at others ideas and working them through with them… they may be valuable, they may not, but really listening and engaging.”

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  1. And one thing we didn’t learn.

    What action Ofqual are taking to fix the problem acknowledged by Dame Glenys at the Select Committee hearing on 2 September that exam grades “are reliable to one grade either way” – which is in fact the same as stating, rather more dramatically, that about 1 exam grade in 4 is wrong, and has been wrong for years (

    Even when the playing field is level (which it never is, but it is especially corrugated this year), how can exams be “fair” when about 1.5 million wrong grades are “awarded” every year?

  2. And one thing we didn’t learn – what action Ofqual will be taking to fix the problem acknowledged by Dame Glenys at the Select Committee hearing on 2 September that exam grades are “reliable to one grade either way”. That’s a polite way of saying “about 1 grade in every 4 is wrong, and has been wrong for years” (

    Even if there were a “level playing field” (which there never is, and this year’s is especially corrugated), how can exams – as Ministers constantly repeat – be “the fairest way to judge a student’s performance” when about 1.5 million wrong grades are “awarded” every year?

    No, Minister. Exams are not “the fairest way”.