Government facing exams challenge over schools 'advised' to deflate grades

The government is facing a fresh challenge over exam results from schools that followed advice to mark down their teacher grades to stop inflation.

It comes as a member of Ofqual’s exam advisory group has also broken ranks to urge ministers they must allow schools that deflated grades a route of appeal.

David Blow, executive headteacher of the SESSET academy trust, said those schools are in an “unfair position” and now “coming under attack from parents and students”.

Schools Week can also reveal that the Association of School and College Leaders’ recommended approach to producing centre assessed grades (CAGs) was to take into account expected distributions at national level, results in previous years and prior attainment of pupils.

The advice was described as the “ASCL approach” to ensure “overall outcomes are in line with previous (and future) cohorts. This means individual schools need to submit CAGs which are “non-inflationary””. Guidance added that schools following this process can know they are “doing the right thing”.

However schools that did moderate down their teacher grades are now up in arms after the government decided to award pupils CAGs – leading to record rises in results.

In a letter to parents, Wallington County Grammar School said that “knowing how exam boards would moderate” CAGs, the school was “robust in our procedures to ensure that the overall pattern of results given did not deviate too widely from previous patterns of attainment and the overall expected level of performance”.

But they said the U-turn, to give pupils their original CAG, put “the students of WCGS at a gross disadvantage”.

“Because our staff issued CAGs broadly in line with prior attainment patterns and other schools have not, our students have not benefited from the rampant grade inflation that this practice in other schools has caused. This is inequitable and unacceptable.”

The school has requested permission to increase its CAGs retrospectively so its “grade inflation is in line with the national average”.

At the same time, Blow – who sat on the Ofqual’s external advisory group on exam grading – has said the government must now allow an appeals route for such schools.

He said those schools are now “in an unfair position in comparison with others, which instead focussed on individual pupil grades – leading to those youngsters to get higher grades.

“In the interests of fairness to the students, centres whose CAGs were in line with the calculated grades should be allowed to re-submit their CAGs without having to include unrepresentative previous years’ performance in the calculation.”

He said it would be “straightforward” for the schools to evidence this by “re-running earlier calculations”.

But the i newspaper has reported an education lawyer saying schools that “fit grades into what they expected the algorithm to give … could constitute malpractice”.

The ASCL approach advised schools to look at previous year’s value added scores to create a mark distribution and “fit the pupils to the grades allocated” – a similar approach to how Ofqual worked out the calculated grades.

The ASCL guidance added: “The great advantage of the method outlined above is that it gives schools a way in which they
can calculate the grade distribution to use knowing that it will fit with the national picture and they are doing the right thing by allocating grades which when aggregated will be exactly consistent with those of previous and succeeding years.”

When asked about its advice to schools, ASCL said general secretary Geoff Barton said there will “inevitably be variability” in how grades were awarded adding: “The past performance of centres will have been one of the factors that informed decision-making.

“All we can say is that the process was followed in good faith and in extremely difficult circumstances, and grades were awarded as fairly and accurately as possible. Short of re-running it from scratch it is hard to see what could be done at this stage.”

ASCL has formally requested an independent review into the grades process.

A spokesperson for Ofqual said that when submitting a grade, “schools and colleges were asked to provide holistic, evidence-based judgements of the grade they believe a student would have achieved if teaching, learning and assessments had gone ahead as planned.

“We provided guidance on that process and Heads of Centre were asked to sign a declaration to confirm that the grades submitted honestly and fairly represented what the students would have been most likely to achieve.”