Ofqual: ‘Wrong to assume’ students with deflated grades have been 'disadvantaged'

It’s “wrong to assume” that pupils in schools who deflated teacher grades have “necessarily been disadvantaged”, an Ofqual official has claimed.

The regulator is facing challenges from schools and one of its own advisory board members to offer an appeal route for schools that followed advice to mark down their own teacher grades.

It is wrong to assume students in the centres that were perhaps more realistic about the grades their students would have achieved have necessarily been disadvantaged

Julie Swan, Ofqual’s executive director of general qualifications, told MPs at yesterday’s education select committee that she “recognised the difficulties” schools who were “more cautious” than neighbouring centres  “feel they are now in”,.

But when asked for her message to students in schools who “may have received lower grades relative to their peers”, Swan said: “As with so many aspects of this situation, there are pros and cons, advantages and disadvantages, to the approach that has been taken.

“Therefore, I think it is wrong to assume that students in the centres that were perhaps more realistic about the grades that their students would have achieved have necessarily been disadvantaged.”

She said concerns centred around the feeling that pupils in schools who were “much more optimistic” have “therefore got an advantage”.

But she claimed it was a “moot point whether it actually is an advantage to be given a grade that is an inflated grade, which does not actually reflect the grades that you might have received if you had been able to take the exams”.

“For example, we are hearing concerns coming from some further education colleges and some sixth-form colleges that students in centres that were much more optimistic about the grades that their students would have received have now perhaps—now they have got the centre assessment grades—got grades that indicate a level of ability that is not actually very accurate, and there are concerns that they might progress on to a course for which they are now ill-equipped.”

The comments are unlikely to appease students and parents who feel they’ve unfairly lost out after the government’s decision to award all pupils centre assessed grades.

The variation in how optimistic schools were in their CAGs has been blamed on conflicting advice – with schools told to ensure students are awarded a grade which fairly reflects the work they’ve put in, but also ensure the distribution of grades follows a similar pattern to that in other years.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders which is also pressing for action on the issue, said there’s a “tension” between the two, and some schools have reported a “very significant sense of underachievement by young people who have been punished by that process”.

ASCL’s own recommended approach to producing 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””.

Furthermore, Ofqual’s own guidance from the spring also stated that in reviewing CAGs, heads of centre “should consider how the distribution of centre assessment grades compares with grades achieved by the centre in previous years”.

However Swan said yesterday that this advice was just one of a “number of ways” offered by the regulator to help schools “sense-check” their CAGs.

She then added: “I know that exam boards are having some discussions with some centres that believe they made a mistake when they submitted their centre assessment grades, and those are being put through the appeal process, where appropriate.”

This appeared to suggest that schools who deflated grades had been successful in submitting appeals.

But when asked for clarification, Ofqual said the comments were made in the context of the wider appeals process – not a direct comment on centres appealing because they moderated teacher grades.

A spokesperson reiterated that schools would not have a ground for appeal because they moderated CAGs before they were submitted.

It comes despite Ofqual exam advisory group member David Blow breaking ranks to urge ministers to allow schools that deflated grades a route of appeal.