Grading system risks ‘inaccuracy and bias’ against disadvantaged pupils, MPs warn

Pupils are at risk of missing out on the results they deserve because of “inaccuracy and bias” in this year’s new grading system, MPs have warned.

The education select committee has called on Ofqual reveal details of how it will standardise grades immediately, so schools know how the regulator has ensured “fairness”.

It follows a Schools Week investigation published earlier today revealing the “heartbreak” awaiting pupils at turnaround schools whose improvement won’t be taken into account.

A new report by the education committee said Ofqual’s standardisation model, which pegs teacher-assessed grades to factors like a school’s historic outcomes, “might not be fair” for turnaround schools on an upward trajectory.

The report also said this year’s grading system risks “bias” against disadvantaged groups, with the appeals system for those who lose out favouring the “well-heeled and sharp-elbowed”.

Robert Halfon, education committee chair, said they have “serious worries about the fairness of the model developed by Ofqual.

“There is a risk it will lead to unfair bias and discrimination against already disadvantaged groups and we are far from convinced that the appeal system, which will be more important than ever this year, will be fair.

“The appeals process seems to favour the well-heeled and sharp-elbowed and there is the potential for the system to resemble the Wild West of appeals with different systems used by different exam boards.”

The committee wants a guarantee that Ofqual will publish its standardisation model “immediately”, as well as a “state-of-the-art appeals system”. (See the full list of demands here).

A SchoolDash study published today found thousands of pupils in rapid-improvement schools could be penalised under the system this year.

Teacher-assessed grades will be standardised by exam boards, based on the pupil’s prior scores at primary school and the school’s historic results.

But they won’t take into account rapid improvement made this year.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said schools have done “everything possible to guard against any hint of unconscious bias”.

But he said there are concerns schools that would have performed better in exams this year will “lose out”.

He supported the committee’s recommendation for Ofqual to be “completely transparent about its standardisation model and publish it immediately”.

The report also raised a lack of support for pupils sitting autumn exams and called on catch-up funding to be made available to post-16 pupils.

Halfon added: “There is still hope that all young people will get what they’ve earnt but Ofqual and the Government must act now so this generation can go on to flourish in their future work and education.”

Ofqual said the standardisation model is a “critical tool to make sure standards are aligned between centres and will ensure that national results this summer are broadly similar to previous years.

A spokesperson for the regulator added: “We have extensively tested the model to ensure it gives students the fairest, most accurate results possible and, so far as possible, that students are not advantaged or disadvantaged on the basis of their socio-economic background or particular protected characteristics, and we will evaluate outcomes.

“We agree that students, their parents, carers and teachers need to understand how their results have been calculated and we have committed to publishing full details of the model in due course.”