Ofqual mulls grading change for language and science A-levels

Ofqual is considering a change to the grading of A levels in modern languages and the sciences, if it finds the subjects are more severely marked than others.

Speaking at Ofqual’s summer symposium in London today, Richard Garrett, director of policy and strategic relationships, explained that the regulator is exploring ‘inter-subject comparability’, or whether it is possible to make the different exam subjects easier to compare.

So far Ofqual has decided against trying to align standards across the full range of subjects, but it is looking into “exceptional” or “compelling” cases for adjusting grade standards.

It has begun this process by looking into A level physics, chemistry, biology, French, German and Spanish – with languages looking most likely to change.

Fifty-nine university lecturers from 36 different institutions reviewed candidates’ A-level work from last year, which Ofqual said led to “some evidence” that it would be acceptable to make “boundary adjustments” in some subjects.

Garrett explained that “there was more of a tolerance for adjustments to grading standards in A level languages than those in sciences” – although this did vary by single subjects

Statistical evidence shows sciences are among the most severely graded subjects at A-level, and languages were not far behind.

Entries for A level science have plateaued since 2014 and there has been a decline in entries for A level French and German since 2008.

Last month Schools Week reported that over a third of state schools now allow pupils to opt out of studying a language  altogether as early as year 9, according to research by the British Council.

Ofqual found that schools were setting higher entrance requirements for the sciences and languages due to the severity, which is impacting on the intake of pupils.

Ofqual is now considering the evidence and full conclusions from the study will be made available in the autumn. Next February, Ofqual will confirm whether it will follow up on the current work by looking at grade standards in GCSE French, German and Spanish.

There will be no changes that affect this year’s exams.