ASCL statement on grading process

Our statement on this year's exam grading process.
Following the cancellation of exams, schools and colleges were asked by the exam regulator Ofqual to submit centre-assessed grades for each student in each subject. The regulator set out guidance on how they should carry out this exercise. This included taking into account evidence about the student’s performance, such as classwork, non-exam assessment, and mock exams. But it also included a requirement to take into account the previous results of the centre in each subject, with the observation that ‘year-on-year variation in results for a given subject is normally quite small.’

ASCL provided guidance and support to schools and colleges about how to carry out this process in line with the guidance issued by Ofqual. This process will have meant that some grades that were submitted by teachers for their students were moderated down by the centre when it took into account its data on past performance in that subject. 

This exercise was carried out in the expectation that the centre-assessed grades would then be standardised by the exam boards, and that a key element of the standardisation process was that centre-assessed grades would be adjusted if they were substantially different from what might be expected based on that centre’s historical results and prior attainment of this year’s students.

Schools and colleges expected that the application of the standardisation model would iron out any inconsistencies in the way that that each centre had approached this task given that there was bound to be some variation in the way that centres interpreted the Ofqual guidance in what was an unprecedented exercise.

When A-level results were released it quickly became clear that there were very serious and widespread anomalies in the grades produced by the standardisation model, and that these were so significant that it would not be possible to remedy this situation through any appeals process. The government rightly decided to abandon the standardisation process for A-levels and for GCSEs and to revert to using the centre-assessed grades that were originally submitted. This was the least worst option.

The problem with this solution, however, is that it creates room for inconsistency. Centre-assessed grades will have been decided taking into account the past performance of the centre in each subject, and the extent to which this criteria was applied will have varied between centres. Students in schools and colleges which put more weight on this criteria are potentially and inadvertently disadvantaged compared to centres which put less weight on this criteria.

We do not know how many students’ grades might have been moderated down as a result of centres taking into account the past performance of the centre, and there is no mechanism for appealing grades on this basis.

We wrote to Ofqual chief regulator Sally Collier on 24 August to set out our concerns over this situation. In our letter, we said: “We recognise that correcting this possible injustice is not straightforward. We feel, however, that Ofqual and the Department for Education owes it to this year’s students to investigate the extent to which this difference in approach across centres may have disadvantaged some students, and to consider ways in which this issue might be addressed.”

We have subsequently met with officials at Ofqual, and the regulator has published summary guidance which categorically states that schools and colleges were asked to take into account the previous results of the centre in each subject. We are pleased that Ofqual has made this crystal clear because this will help schools and colleges to deal with students and parents who are questioning their approach. 

However, Ofqual continues to rule out any route for appeals over grades that were moderated down by centres as a result of the regulator’s guidance. We understand that it is concerned that this risks undermining the whole system on which this year’s results were awarded, and potentially leading to further discrepancies and injustices. 

We will continue to represent all members’ views on this difficult issue in our ongoing discussions with Ofqual and the Department for Education.