No algorithms to decide GCSE and A level grades

Students will receive GCSE and A level grades awarded and determined by teachers, with pupils only assessed on what they have been taught and no algorithm whatsoever will be used, Gavin Williamson, the education secretary has announced.

The government has said fairness and flexibility are at the heart of the plans to ensure young people get to their next stage of education or training.

Teachers will be able to draw on a range of evidence when determining grades, including the optional use of questions provided by exam boards, as well as mock exams, coursework, or other work completed as part of a pupil’s course, such as essays or in-class tests.

GCSE and A level grades are to be submitted by teachers to exam boards by 18 June, allowing as much teaching time as possible before teachers make their assessments.

A significant change to results days for awarding GCSE and A level grades, as well as some vocational qualifications will be moving it forward to 9 August from the week of the 23 August.  The government says these earlier dates provide additional time for appeals to be completed, so students reliant on those outcomes to achieve their university offer have the best chance of accessing a place.

In order to support teachers in making their judgements, exam boards will provide detailed guidance before the end of the spring term. The government has said the guidance will be designed to minimise any additional burden this year’s awarding process may place on teachers and staff.

The government has also announced that students studying vocational and technical qualifications (VTQs) that are often taught alongside GCSEs and A levels on one or two year courses, and used for university or college places, will also receive grades assessed by teachers rather than sitting exams.

Confirmed also in the announcement is that exams and assessments will continue in VTQs where they are needed for students to demonstrate the necessary professional standard in an occupation.

Plans are for schools, colleges and other educational settings to conduct multiple checks – such as checking consistency of judgements across teachers and that the correct processes were followed – to ensure as much fairness as possible. At the same time, exam boards will conduct their own checks, through a combination of random sampling and more targeted scrutiny where they identify cause for concern.

Every student will have the right to appeal their grade.

The proposals being taken forward were supported in responses to the Department for Education’s (DfE) and Ofqual’s largest ever consultation, with over 100,000 responses of which just over half (52%) came from pupils.

Commenting on the announcement, the education secretary, Gavin Williamson said: “Young people have shown incredible resilience over the last year, continuing with their learning amidst unprecedented challenges while the country battles with this pandemic. Those efforts deserve to be fairly rewarded.

“That’s why we are providing the fairest possible system for those pupils, asking those who know them best – their teachers – to determine their grades, with our sole aim to make sure all young people can progress to the next stage of their education or career.

“I also recognise many students need their vocational and technical qualifications to enter into work. Exams and practical assessments in these courses are essential for the students to progress to the next stage, and so it’s right that these continue.”

Ofqual’s interim chief regulator, Simon Lebus, said: “We know how difficult this past year has been for many students, parents, schools and colleges. In normal years, we rely on exams to support students’ progression.

“This year it is teachers’ judgement that will be used to assess what has been learned and determine student grades. Assessment cannot itself serve as an instrument to recover lost learning and compensate for the different experiences students will have had in different parts of the country, and the arrangements being put in place will therefore only take into account what students have been taught, not what they have missed. The aim is to make it no harder overall for this year’s students to receive a particular grade than students in other years.

“I am confident that these arrangements will allow all parts of the education and training sector to work together collectively to make sure students’ grades reflect what they have achieved and provide a sound basis to enable them to make good decisions about their future.”

It was also announced that there will be a clear and accessible route for private candidates to work with a centre to receive a grade this year, at the same time as other candidates. Exam boards will provide centres with clear guidance on the evidence they can use to assess a private candidate. A list of available centres is to be published shortly and, the government has said it is working with the sector to ensure there are sufficient centres available and at a similar cost to a normal year.

Leora Cruddas, chief executive of the Confederation of School Trusts, said: “This year the Government has made clear that the process for awarding grades should be based on teachers’ professional judgement. There is a reasonable consensus that teacher judgement will need to be both supported, scaffolded and quality assured.  This is because although the pandemic has had a damaging impact, we still want assessment outcomes this year to reflect something objective. 

“The DfE and Ofqual’s response to the consultation has had to balance carefully the views of multiple stakeholders. The arrangements that are being announced today will provide welcome certainty as to what schools, trusts and colleges are being asked to do.”

John Jolly, the chief executive of Parentkind, the UK charity organisation which promotes ways parents engage in their children’s education, said:

“It’s clear from our research that what matters most to parents when it comes to their children’s exams is fairness. The majority of parents believe that teacher assessment is, under the circumstances, the fairest way to test pupils and award them with grades that reflect their knowledge and understanding. They also want to see a range of evidence taken into account when determining grades.

“We therefore fully support the DfE’s commitment to avoidassessing on a full curriculum this year, which very few parents want, as well as finding flexible ways for teachers to assess pupils’ work based on what they have learnt. Clarity over the new arrangements for this summer’s exams, which take parents’ views into account, provides parents and students alike with peace of mind. Exam cohorts can now focus on a successful conclusion to their studies.”

Adding to the announcement the government confirmed that GCSE, A level grades and VQTs results awarded using alternative assessment arrangements in 2020/21 will not be used to create performance table measures at school or college level for use in accountability. Further details on what this means for accountability arrangements in 2020/21 are to follow.

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