Ofqual analysis on 2020 grading: 5 new findings

Ofqual has published two new reports looking at the use of centre assessed grades (CAGs) last year.

Last summer’s chaos saw the government u-turn on its plan to awarded calculated grades, allowing students to instead use unmoderated CAGs.

It led to large rises in grades, with two-thirds of students having at least one of their A-level results upgraded. The regulator’s reports published today look at the source data and which students were impacted.

Here are the key findings…


1. CAGs were about half a grade higher than previous years

Ofqual found last year’s GCSE and A-level CAGs were on average about half a grade higher than those in previous years.

But “reassuringly” the majority of relationships between grades and other features studied – such as subject and school – had not “substantially changed”, the report stated.

So although teacher grades were higher than previous years, they mostly “did not introduce any substantial bias or different patterns of grading”.

However, at A-level, there was one “statistically significant” difference in the narrowing of the gap between male and female candidates. In previous years, male candidates had received higher grades, but in 2020 this gap closed.


2. Prior attainment ‘strongest predictor’ of grades

Ofqual said the strongest predictor of grade outcomes “by far” was a student’s prior attainment, with this relationship “slightly stronger” in 2020 compared to previous years.

This could be because of teachers’ “over reliance” on prior attainment as a source of data and “not sufficiently taking into account individual candidate differences in performance”.

But it could also show CAGs factoring out “unpredictable” variations, such as exam anxiety and last minute revision seen in normal years.

There was also evidence that at the top of the grade distribution there was a “plateauing” of the link with prior attainment.

Effectively, students with the highest prior attainment received on average slightly smaller increases in grades, compared to previous years, as they were already achieving the highest grades possible.

But it meant that schools with more low prior attainment pupils saw the largest increase in grades as they had “greater headroom”, and therefore “further to travel” up the grade range.


3. Subjects with coursework mostly had largest increases

Researchers said there was evidence at both GCSE and A-level that subjects with more non-exam assessment had the largest increases in 2020 grades.

These subjects tended to be “expressive” subjects – like drama, music or dance. Ofqual believes this could be because of teachers using coursework grades, usually the students’ highest graded element, to inform CAGs.


4. Biggest boost for private schools and grammars

Independent centres had amongst the greatest increase in mean grades awarded in 2020, particularly towards the top of the grade distribution for GCSEs and A-levels.

There was also some evidence that grammar schools’ outcomes increased more than mainstream secondaries at GCSE.

Although the samples for further education and sixth form colleges was “very small”, Ofqual found at GCSE there was some evidence they were being “relatively generous”.

But it was the opposite at A-level, where sixth form colleges awarded relatively lower grades, particularly at grade C.


5. ‘No evidence’ socio-economic background impacted biggest grade gaps

One of the reports looks at who was affected by the difference between CAGs and the later-scrapped calculated grades.

Researchers analysed results for the one in ten students who had calculated grades that were three or more grades lower than their CAGs.

The regulator has again said there is no evidence a students’ socio-economic background, SEND status or language were associated with the likelihood of receiving a three-grade gap.

But there was “some” evidence that females and Asian and British Asian students were more likely to receive a three-grade gap than males and white students respectively. However, the effect was “very small”.

Ofqual concludes the likelihood of experiencing a three-grade gap “was not systematically and substantially higher for specific groups of students”.



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