Fears over 'inconsistencies' in GCSE and A-level grades from teachers

GCSE and A-level ‘inconsistencies’ mean pupils could have LONGER to sit SAME exam in different schools due to ‘inadequate’ marking guidance after tests were axed for second year in row

  • Most schools to place more weight on exam-style papers when deciding grades 
  • Teachers will give out marks for GCSE and A-levels after exams were cancelled 
  • They will use range of evidence such as mocks, coursework and assessments 
  • But only a small proportion will set questions from boards in exam conditions

Education experts have raised fears over ‘inconsistencies’ in grades for pupils in Britain this summer after exams were cancelled for the second year in a row.

Teachers in England will be responsible for giving out GCSE and A-level marks for pupils this year with most schools set to place greater weight on exam-style papers.

They are set to draw on a range of evidence from pupils including mock exams, coursework, and in-class assessments using questions provided by exam boards.

But only a small proportion of schools across the country are expected to carry out the optional assessment questions from exam boards in exam conditions.

Teachers can also choose how long students have to complete the task and where it will be carried out, leading to fears over a lack of fairness across the system.

The Education Policy Institute think tank has spoken of concerns over schools taking vastly different approaches to grading due to class assessments being optional.

It also expects to see ‘a significant number of pupils appealing their grades this year’, with many children likely to feel that they have been ‘unfairly treated’.

Natalie Perera, chief executive of the EPI, told MailOnline: ‘As we approach the summer, there remains a significant risk that pupils receiving GCSE and A level grades are dissatisfied with their results.

‘Grade inflation is inevitable, but the more immediate concern is the inconsistencies in how schools will approach grading.

Range of approaches to assessing GCSEs and A-levels this year 

An Association of School and College Leaders poll found grades for GCSEs and A-levels this year will be based on:

  • 7%: Exam-style papers, sat in exam-style conditions, only
  • 6%: Non-exam evidence only
  • 53% Exam-style papers and non-exam evidence, but with greater weighting to exam-style papers
  • 26%: Exam-style papers and non-exam evidence, with roughly equal weighting to each
  • 6%: Exam-style papers and non-exam evidence, but with greater weighting to non-exam evidence

Most of the 521 responses (77%) were from state-funded secondary schools, while 18% were from independent schools, and the remainder came from colleges, and other types of schools. 

‘Some schools are using very different approaches to forming teacher assessed grades than others, which could result in discrepancies across the country.

‘We had previously recommended that apart from those in exceptional circumstances, all pupils should take short, universal assessments to inform their grades this year, to ensure fairness.

‘The Government and Ofqual have attempted to put in place safeguards to ensure consistency over grading whilst also giving guidance to schools, but this could still lead to a large proportion of pupils from feeling like they have been unfairly treated.

‘We have heard from teachers that they feel the information and guidance given to them to help form pupils’ grades has been inadequate.

‘It is almost certain that we’ll see a significant number of pupils appealing their grades this year.’

The Government’s decision to allow A-level and GCSE students to access assessment questions from exam boards in advance has also come under fire.

School leaders and education experts said in March that making these materials publicly available to students ahead of tests could ’embed disadvantage’ and benefit more privileged students.

A poll by the Association of School and College Leaders found only 6 per cent of students’ grades will be based solely on ‘non-exam evidence’ this year.

More than half of headteachers said in the study last month that they plan to give greater weighting to ‘exam-style papers’ compared to other forms of assessments.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said headteachers will ‘have thought long and hard about the best way to assess and grade those who would have been taking GCSEs and A-levels this summer’

The ASCL poll, of more than 500 secondary school and college leaders in England and done on April 19 to 21, found 7 per cent will base assessments on papers ‘sat in exam-style conditions’ only.

Three in five parents struggled to help children with maths

Nearly three in five parents found maths the hardest subject to help their children with during lockdown, a survey suggests.

The same proportion (59%) said that homeschooling highlighted their own lack of confidence in maths and anything involving numbers, according to the poll commissioned by charity National Numeracy.

But the survey, of more than 600 parents, suggests that 65% believe their own maths skills have improved as a result of homeschooling.

There is much more work to do to support adults who struggle with everyday maths, the charity says.

Overall, 39% said having to do maths makes them feel anxious, according to the survey of 2,000 British adults.

Nearly one in three adults (31%) said they struggle with everyday maths – and 29% avoid situations involving numbers, the report suggests.

Helping children with their homework or homeschooling is one of the ways that people say they are struggling with everyday maths, the charity found.

Of the parents surveyed, 59% said maths was the most difficult lesson to teach during lockdown.

National Numeracy chief executive Sam Sims said: ‘Number confidence and skills are needed in every aspect of life – at work, home and supporting children at school.

‘This research shows there is a huge amount of anxiety about numeracy and much more work to do to support the one in three British adults who say they struggle with everyday maths.

‘Everyone deserves to feel confident with numbers and this National Numeracy Day, we are going all out to show how, with the right support, everyone can improve their everyday maths.’

One Poll questioned 2,000 UK adults – including 632 parents of school children – between May 4-6.

It also suggested that 53 per cent would base their teacher judgments on a combination of ‘exam-style papers’ and non-exam evidence, but more emphasis will be placed on exam-style papers.

Meanwhile 7 per cent said grades will be based solely on exam-style papers sat in exam-style conditions – either in classrooms or exam halls.

Headteachers who have decided to base grades on exam-style papers alone said they felt it would ensure that all pupils are assessed on the same evidence.

They also told how the disruption caused by lockdowns and self-isolation amid the pandemic made it difficult to identify other consistent quality evidence.

School leaders using a combination of evidence – with greater weighting given to exam-style questions – felt the exam board papers provided reliable evidence based on pupils’ own work.

Defending schools, Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the ASCL, told MailOnline: ‘School and college leaders know their students better than anybody else and will have thought long and hard about the best way to assess and grade those who would have been taking GCSEs and A-levels this summer. 

‘It is important to recognise that the guidance from Ofqual and the exam boards gives schools and colleges significant leeway in how they approach this.

‘The vast majority of schools and colleges that responded to our survey said they would use exam-style papers as part of the assessment process, with a small number indicating they would use just exam-style papers or exclusively non-exam evidence.

‘The decisions schools and colleges have made are designed to reflect the differing experiences of learning their students have had during the pandemic. 

‘We have the utmost confidence that teachers are working extremely hard, using their own judgement and experience to reach outcomes that are fair and reasonable for all their students.’  

And a Department for Education spokesman told MailOnline last night: ‘Teachers know their students best, which is why we are giving schools the flexibility to determine how best to assess their cohorts.

‘There is robust guidance and quality assurance in place, including training and support, internal checks in schools, and external checks by exam boards to ensure fairness.’

Meanwhile, the ASCL also warned teachers in England are likely to continue acting ‘on the cautious side’ despite the easing of coronavirus safety measures in schools.

Teachers in England will give out marks for GCSE and A-levels after this summer’s exams were cancelled for the second year in a row due to the pandemic (file picture from 2012) 

The Government has announced that from Monday, the requirement for children to wear face coverings in schools has been dropped.

But some areas in the north of England are being advised to continue measures, following rising numbers of cases of the Indian variant. 

MPs and parents have raised concerns about face masks in class disrupting pupils’ learning and wellbeing since they were introduced in March.

An Ofqual spokesman said last month that the use of the additional assessment material provided by the exam boards is ‘optional and part of a range of evidence which could be used by teachers to arrive at a grade’. 

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