Ofqual chief makes case for ‘more generous’ grades in 2021 and beyond

Ofqual’s chief regulator has told ministers she wants to compensate pupils for the pandemic’s “baleful” impact on their schooling with “more generous” national performance standards in next year’s exams and beyond.

In a letter to the government published today, Dame Glenys Stacey said it was “important” that the regulator recognised “in every way possible” the potential the impact of lost learning on pupils.

However, she said this must be done “without bending examinations out of shape”.

She added: “We are thinking carefully about the performance standard that should be aimed for in all these qualifications, in 2021.

“We will be intent on making sure that results are sufficiently valid and fair across subjects, but there is nevertheless in our view an opportunity to recognise, and to compensate for the baleful impact of the pandemic for all students qualifying in 2021 (and possibly beyond), by setting national performance standards more generously than in normal times.”

It’s the biggest hint yet that some of the grade inflation seen in this year’s results, where centre assessed grades were awarded, will be allowed to continue.

National performance standards are the level of performance that students must show to achieve a particular grade. Ofqual has the ability to impact this, for instance by lowering the level of marks required to achieve a specific grade through its comparable outcomes approach.

Unions had called on the regulator to peg grades somewhere between 2019 and 2020.

Stacey also said the regulator is “looking at what further steps we could take to make these exams less daunting a prospect for students, while of course making sure they remain a fair test of knowledge and understanding in each subject. I look forward to advising you of the options here – particularly where they could have implications for government’s curriculum intentions in each subject.”

She said the regulator expects to be able to share the plans with the sector this month.



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  1. But is it also not “baleful” that exam grades are “reliable to one grade either way” – those being the words used by Dame Glenys herself at the Select Committee hearing on 2nd September? And although it’s not obvious, “reliable to one grade either way” means, in reality, that about 1 grade in 4 is wrong, and has been wrong for years ( That’s around 1.5 million wrong grades every summer.

    What’s the point in being “generous” if the resulting grades are this unreliable? Surely delivering reliability is more important than “generosity”? But on this, Dame Glenys, and Ofqual, are silent…

  2. Helen Clark

    I question how fair this grade inflation can possibly be for all those who suffered the introduction of both the new GCSEs in Maths and English, followed by the new A Levels, and who graduated in 2019. This cohort will be competing for jobs for years alongside the ‘Covid Generation’ and their inflated grades. I suspect universities and employers will come to label some of these results as ‘Covid results’ when they find they have taken on someone with grades which prove to bear no resemblance to their actual abilities. Unfortunately, such candidates may have already seen off their more able non-covid competitors at the paper stage of the recruitment process, due to their shiny, inflated, but potentially quite undeserved exam grades.