ASCL sets out proposals for grading GCSEs and A-levels

The Association of School and College Leaders today warns that plans for assessing GCSEs and A-levels in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic must not become exams by another name.
In our proposals to the government and exams regulator Ofqual, we back the idea of exam boards providing a range of papers or banks of questions that teachers can use to assess their students this summer.
However, these should not be treated as ‘mini-exams’, and it should not be mandatory that schools and colleges have to use them. Centres should be left with the flexibility to base grades on their own assessments if this is the best way of ensuring fairness.
Our proposals are in response to the consultation being run by the Department for Education and Ofqual following the government’s decision to scrap public exams this summer because of the disruption to education caused by the pandemic.
Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “Students have suffered huge disruption because of coronavirus, and they have been affected to widely varying extents. That’s why it is vital that the way they are assessed this summer is as flexible as possible in order to ensure that they are tested on content they have covered rather than content they have missed.
“We understand that some people will argue that there should be a set of mandatory assessments because this will provide greater consistency. However, there is a danger of replicating the very problems that drove the decision to scrap exams in the first place, namely the fact that students who have suffered the most disruption may find themselves doubly disadvantaged by papers they cannot answer.
“Many of us have mulled over this dilemma for some time, but the Prime Minister’s announcement on Wednesday extending the period of lockdown restrictions, swung the pendulum firmly in favour of maximising flexibility. We don’t claim the system we are proposing is perfect, because nothing can be perfect in these circumstances. But we believe it will provide the fairest way possible of assessing students this summer.”

Our proposals say:
  • Exam boards should provide papers or questions on a wide range of content, so that schools and colleges can choose those which focus on content their students have been taught, however disrupted their learning has been.
  • Schools and colleges should be encouraged to ask students to undertake these papers or questions under reasonably controlled conditions if possible, to increase their confidence that they represent a student’s own work. However, they should not be treated as ‘mini-exams’. There should be no expectation that students come to these tasks unseen, or that all students sit them at the same time.
  • The use of these papers or questions should be encouraged, rather than mandated. They will be helpful in determining submitted grades, and may prove particularly useful in the case of appeals. However, there may be some circumstances in which the use of these materials may not be appropriate, such as if some or all students are not able to return to face-to-face education for many more weeks.
  • Schools and colleges should be given a clear indication of what other types of work, alongside the exam board-created materials, they could use as evidence for submitting grades.
  • Schools and colleges should draw this evidence together for each student, and submit grades to the exam boards by mid June. The boards should quality assure these submitted grades, satisfying themselves that the centre has followed the agreed process. This quality assurance process should include comparison of the submitted grades with the centre’s historical performance and prior attainment data. If the submitted grades are similar to the centre’s prior performance and attainment, in the vast majority of cases the board should agree to award these to students as they stand.
  • If a school or college’s submitted grades are significantly different from the centre’s previous performance, and the centre has not already discussed this with the board, the board should then initiate a discussion about this. The board should ask for evidence for why the centre believes this year’s cohort is significantly different. If the board is not happy with this evidence, it should ask the school or college to adjust the submitted grades.
  • The boards should release the grades to students on the normal results days, i.e. 12 and 19 August. Any student unhappy with their grade should be able to appeal to the board, which will investigate the appeal.
The full ASCL proposal and consultation response on GCSE, AS and A-level grades can be viewed here and our response to the consultation on vocational and technical qualifications is available here.