GCSE and A levels: Ofqual lists evidence that should be used to decide grades

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
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Exam boards could adjust upwards or downwards a school’s GCSE and A level grades if it is felt that its teacher-led assessment has been too generous or severe.

Teachers will decide their students’ GCSE and A level grades this summer and must consider evidence including class work, book work, assignments, mock exams, non-exam assessment, and other records of student performance.

Schools are to be contacted by the examination boards after Easter and will be given a submission deadline for their assessments – this deadline will be no earlier than May 29.

Teachers are deciding upon their students’ grades after the cancellation of formal GCSE and A level examinations this summer due to the coronavirus emergency.

Ofqual published on Friday (April 3) its guidance for schools, parents and students explaining exactly how grades should be decided and setting out the process between now and results day in August.

A standardisation process is to be put in place to verify the grades submitted by each school and college. Ofqual is to consult in due course on the principles of this process.

However, the exams watchdog has confirmed that the process will look at elements such as expected national outcomes, prior attainment, and the results of each school and college in recent years.

Ofqual warned: “If grading judgements in some schools and colleges appear to be more severe or generous than others, exam boards will adjust the grades of some or all of those students upwards or downwards accordingly.”

It comes after the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) said that the cancellation of exams has given the profession a unique opportunity to show that the current system of examinations at 16 is “inappropriate” and to prove that teacher assessment can be trusted. ASCL has issued its own guidance to schools on the principles of teacher assessment.

Meanwhile, schools have been asked not to share their teacher assessed grades with students or families in order to ensure integrity in the system and to help manage candidates’ expectations.

Ofqual is aiming to publish final grades before the normal GCSE and A level results days in August.

Ofqual’s guidance on the submission of grades includes three broad requirements:

  • A centre assessment grade for every student in each of their subjects – described by Ofqual as “the grade they would be most likely to have achieved if they had sat their exams and completed any non-exam assessment”.
  • The rank order of students within each grade for each subject. This information “will be used in the statistical standardisation of centres’ judgements – allowing fine tuning of the standard applied across all schools and colleges”.
  • A declaration from the head of centre making the submission.

The guidance says that judgements should balance different sources of evidence, including:

  • Class work and book work.
  • Any participation in performances in subjects such as music, drama or PE.
  • Any non-exam assessment – whether or not complete.
  • The results of any class or homework assignments or mock exams.
  • Previous examination results – for example, for any re-sitting students or those with relevant AS qualifications.
  • Any other records of student performance over the course of study.

The ranking of students within each grade will mean that, for example, all students with a centre assessment grade of 5 in GCSE maths must be ranked in order whereby 1 is the most secure, highest attaining student.

An Ofqual statement on Friday (April 3), said: “To make sure that grades are as fair as possible across schools and colleges, exam boards will put all centre assessment grades through a process of standardisation using a model being developed with Ofqual.

“We will consult on the principles of our model shortly, but we expect it will look at evidence such as the expected national outcomes for this year’s students, the prior attainment of students at each school and college (at cohort, not individual level), and the results of the school or college in recent years.

“It will not change the rank order of students within each centre; nor will it assume that the distribution of grades in each subject or centre should be the same. The process will also recognise the past performance of schools and colleges.

“However, if grading judgements in some schools and colleges appear to be more severe or generous than others, exam boards will adjust the grades of some or all of those students upwards or downwards accordingly.”

An appeals process is also to be put in place and students will be given the chance if they wish to sit their exams “at the earliest reasonable opportunity in the new academic year”, Ofqual has confirmed. Ofqual is also to consult on proposals for “specific appeal arrangements”.

It adds: “We are working across the sector to plan for how and when these additional exams will take place. We are working as quickly as possible to develop an approach and we will provide further information as soon as we can.”

Sally Collier, Ofqual’s chief regulator, said: “School or college-based assessment already has an important role in many GCSEs, AS and A levels and in extraordinary circumstances such as these, schools and colleges are best placed to judge the likely performance of their students at the end of the course.

“We have worked closely with the teaching profession to ensure that what we are asking is both appropriate and manageable, so that everyone can have confidence in the approach. I would like to take this opportunity to thank teachers and school leaders for making this process work for students during these very challenging times.”

Commenting on the guidance, Geoff Barton, the general secretary of ASCL, said: “Students can be assured their schools and colleges know them well, will assess their work with the utmost diligence, and that the process for standardising results will ensure a level playing field nationally. It will allow students to progress to the next stage of their lives without hindrance.

“It is important to understand that a mechanism is applied to A level and GCSE results every year which means the distribution of grades is broadly the same as for similar cohorts in previous years. The model planned by Ofqual this year will apply a similar approach to assessments made by schools and colleges rather than to exams. The benefit is this ensures consistency over time and students can therefore be confident that a grade achieved this year will have the same value as in any other year.”

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the National Education Union, emphasised that Ofqual’s guidance does not ask schools to set further work to help in the determining of grades – something ASCL’s guidance last week said would be inappropriate.

Dr Bousted added: “It is absolutely right that teachers’ grade judgements should be based on work which was done before schools and colleges shut down. Anything else would be unfair. Setting formal assessments for pupils to carry out at home would only demonstrate the inequalities of remote learning for students. We will encourage members to use Ofqual’s guidance that no student should be disadvantaged by work set for the purposes of determining a grade after schools and colleges closed.”

She continued: “We stated that these grade judgements would need to be made using a range of evidence, and we are pleased that the regulator has agreed. This means that grades won’t be based on mock exam results, or any other single piece of evidence alone. It is important now that the guidance on what teachers can use and how they come to these judgements is clear and consistent.”

Ofqual has also published a letter to students setting out its proposals.

  • ASCL: Coronavirus: Emerging principles and guidance regarding teacher-assessed grades for summer 2020, March 2020: https://bit.ly/2URBtjd
  • DfE: Coronavirus (COVID-19): cancellation of GCSEs, AS and A levels in 2020, March 20, 2020: https://bit.ly/2wOFQU8
  • Ofqual: GCSEs, AS and A level awarding: summer 2020, April 3, 2020a: https://bit.ly/2X3MJeT
  • Ofqual: A message for all GCSE, AS and A level students this summer, April 3, 2020b: https://bit.ly/3dSiCNC
  • SecEd: Using teacher assessment for GCSE grades will show that an alternative universe is possible, March 2020: https://bit.ly/2QYwV9B


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