Unions comment on Ofqual plan for GCSEs and A-levels

The Association of School and College Leaders and the National Education Union have commented on the plan published today by Ofqual

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “We support Ofqual’s plan for the grading of A-levels and GCSEs following the cancellation of exams, and call upon everybody to back this approach. We must all recognise this is a system forged in extremis. It is about making the best out of a difficult situation.

“We are confident that Ofqual’s plan is the fairest and most consistent way of grading these qualifications in these circumstances. 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 hinderance.

“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.

“Many of us have longer term concerns about aspects of the exam system as it currently stands. But that is a matter for another day. Change will require carefully considered reform. The immediate priority is fairness for this year’s A-level and GCSE students and we are all committed to making sure this happens.”

Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: “In awarding grades in GCSEs and A-Levels this year, we are pleased that the Department for Education and Ofqual both recognise the professionalism of teachers. Teachers are experts in their subjects, are taught during their training how to assess students, and regularly do so in a variety of ways during lessons and using more formal methods at different stages throughout the year. Exams are not the only way to assess someone’s ability – in fact, research shows that teacher assessment is just as reliable and stable.
“We also note Ofqual’s assurance that the work on vocational and technical qualifications is continuing with equal speed and importance. That landscape is more complex, so we appreciate it is taking longer to arrive at the right solutions. We hope to see more information for students, parents and education professionals involved with these qualifications as soon as possible.
“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.
“NEU 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. The NEU will be working with Ofqual and awarding organisations to help make that happen.
“In any qualification system, but particularly one created in these circumstances, it helps with consistency and fairness to have moderation and oversight from the regulator. However, many teachers will be uncomfortable with the concept of rank-ordering students, especially if it amounts to a rationing of grades based on previous performance data. Moderation does not have to mean rank-ordering students nor rationing of success and in an ideal use of teacher judgements during awarding, this would be possible
“This crisis demonstrates again that England’s high-stakes exams-based system is not resilient. In other nations of the UK, awarding is being assisted by the fact that not all of the assessment was left until exams at the end of the course. We hope the work done here can open up a longer-term conversation about the impact on our pupils of unnecessary high-stakes exams. The most important thing now, though, is to guarantee for teachers the space, support and guidance they need to come to these grading decisions, without fear of external pressure or judgement.
“Students will hopefully be further reassured by the promise of an appeals process and an opportunity to sit exams if they wish, as soon as is reasonably possible once schools re-open. Going forward we will work with Ofqual on the process for this. No qualifications system, including one based on exams, is perfect for each individual involved. However, it is important for students’ sake that their grades have value, so we must work as a sector to make it as fair and consistent as it can be. Teachers are dedicated, ethical, highly-trained professionals with expertise in their subject – both teaching and assessing it – and with the right support and backing from all involved, will absolutely rise to this challenge.”
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