A storm of dissatisfaction is brewing over results and if Ofqual don’t offer to change their position then ministers must make them, writes Sir Jon Coles

It goes without saying that Ofqual have a tough job this year. An exam system with no exams.

But they are in danger of getting it badly wrong.

Schools were told to disregard all work from lockdown onwards in assessing grades. So the question schools faced at that point was: what grade would those young people have got if they had sat exams in 2 months’ time?

And what exactly would have been their rank order had that happened?

With the best will in the world, nobody can know for sure the answer to those questions.  Nobody can know what would have happened in those two months. The future was not fixed. Had there been no Covid, which students would have worked harder and more effectively than their teachers would have guessed, which less hard? Who would have had a good and who a bad exam day? We cannot know.

And yet the grades young people get next month will count the same and determine their future just as much as if their own exam answers had determined the results.

Justice cries out for them to change their position

So the only thing that would be fair to young people is to recognise the uncertainty and accept that there must be some leniency. The system must do better than guess who would have made it and who would not. Better to have a year of grade inflation than a year where thousands of young people miss university offers through no fault of their own.

If you do your best and come up short, then you can own your failure and learn from it. If you are prevented from reaching the college, university or apprenticeship of your choice by arbitrary decisions over which you have no influence, what can you possibly take from that?

And yet Ofqual offer no leniency.

Ofqual’s consultation says that they will use a statistical model to determine how many of each grade to award to each school. Past history will determine how many grade 9s, 8s and 7s and how many grade A*s, As and Bs each school will receive.

Yet they know – we all know – that past history is at best a partial guide to the future.  Ofqual’s own data show that every year in every subject, the results of hundreds of schools go up and hundreds go down in ways that a statistical model cannot predict. Or to put it another way – thousands of young people get results which a statistical model cannot predict in advance – even in the largest schools.

And yet Ofqual’s consultation proposes not to take account of the centre assessment grades – except in the smallest cohorts where they really have no choice.

Of course, they must discard outlandish grades from any schools and colleges which have over-claimed absurdly. But we all know that a model that relies solely on historic data will not be more than 80% accurate in grading students.

Yet Ofqual offer no leniency. And Ofqual propose to discard centre assessment grades for most students.

Justice cries out for them to change their position.  But Ofqual is silent. Its Board is silent. As they progress in a slow-motion car crash towards the least just results season in history.

Even now, it isn’t too late for Ofqual to make some change to this year’s system. But I fear that only an unprecedented and exceptionally bold ministerial intervention can save us from an August exam season row which will dwarf anything we have seen before.