No action to be taken on severe A level grading

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

School leaders have expressed their disappointment that exams watchdog Ofqual is not to take action over issues of severe grading in A level languages.

Ofqual has been looking into the extent that severe grading affects A levels in French, Spanish, German, physics, chemistry and biology.

Its report finds that while the subjects are of “above average difficulty” and among the most severely graded, there is “not a compelling case” to adjust grading standards.

The report adds: “However, we recognise the potential for perceived grading severity to undermine public confidence in these qualifications, and we will therefore consider with exam boards how we should act to avoid the potential for these subjects to become statistically more difficult in the future.”

Dr Michelle Meadows, Ofqual’s executive director strategy, risk and research, said: “Public perceptions of the difficulty of these subjects is longstanding. However, adjusting grading standards is something we would only consider if there were a uniformly compelling case to do so. We have carefully considered the arguments of stakeholders and closely examined a broad range of evidence against our criteria. We have concluded there is no such uniformly compelling case to adjust grading standards in these subjects.”

The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) is particularly concerned about the languages situation given the fall in entries in French and German. It argues that the need to improve uptake of languages justifies intervention.

Suzanne O’Farrell, ASCL’s curriculum and assessment specialist, said: “It’s disappointing that Ofqual has decided to take no significant action over severe grading in A level languages despite finding that it’s harder to obtain top grades in these subjects than in many other subjects.

“We recognise that its analysis shows there are other subjects which are graded even more severely, but there is an urgent need to act on languages because of a national crisis in language learning which has seen entries plummet in French and German.

“Severe grading is not the only factor affecting uptake. These subjects are also impacted by a shortage of teachers and funding pressures. But the perception that it is harder to obtain top grades in languages is a significant element in deterring entrants, and this report is a missed opportunity to take action.”

Figures show that GCSE entries for French and German have fallen over time. In 2018, 120,605 students took French and 43,260 German. This shows little change from 2017, but is notably down from 2016 when 135,200 took French and 48,000 German. At A level, French entries fell from 8,610 in 2017 to 7,945 in 2018. German fell from 3,440 to 2,890.

Ofqual is now to examine the same issues at GCSE level for French, German and Spanish.

Ms O’Farrell added: “We need the government to work with the education sector to develop a national strategy to improve the take-up of languages. We are becoming an increasingly monolingual society and we have to address this decline.”


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