New plans for teachers to assess GCSE and A-Level students could lead to a “grading wild west,” the government has warned.
Gavin Williamson unveiled the new plan on Thursday as ministers scramble to avoid another summer of chaos after exams in England were canceled for the second year in a row.
Teachers will have the power to decide on exam year students’ results using a mix of lessons, simulations, and in-class mini-assessments, such as quizzes and essays.
The Education Secretary decided to ditch the controversial algorithm used to normalize results last year, which led to a fiasco when thousands of students saw their grades downgraded.
Instead, the grades will be submitted to the review boards for review.
The government hopes the move will prevent a repeat of last year’s fiasco, but it is already causing concern among some MPs, teachers and education experts.
Conservative education committee chairman Robert Halfon challenged Mr Williamson in the Commons over the threat of grade inflation, which he said could hurt children’s chances in life.
He said: “The decision to adopt an evaluated center for the second year in a row highlights the severity of the damage caused by school closures and although I accept that this is the least bad option offered by the government, my concern is not so much about having your cake and eating it, but baking a quality inflation rock cake in the system.
“So will he confirm what the government’s plan is to ensure that we don’t have a Wild West ranking, that these ratings will be meaningful to employers so as not to harm children’s life chances and when? “
Mr Williamson accepted his concerns, but said pegging the ratings to previous years “would likely involve the use of some form of algorithm.”
He insisted it was better to rely on teachers, saying: “Ultimately, this summer’s assessments will ensure fair paths to the next stages of education or the start of their careers. “
Here we take a look at the exam plan and what could go wrong this summer.
What is the plan?
Formal exams have been phased out this year due to continued disruption caused by the pandemic.
Instead, teachers will determine a student’s grade using things like practice exams, lectures, or other classroom work like essays or classroom tests.
Examination boards will prepare questions in different subjects that teachers can use if they wish, and schools can decide whether these are done under exam conditions or at home.
Students can only be assessed on the things they have learned this year, in recognition of the massive disruption school closings have had on their education.
Teachers will be required to submit their assessments, along with supporting evidence, by June 18.
This proof can be important for students who want to appeal their grades.
Mr Williamson said examination boards would conduct checks to “rule out malpractice”, which will include spot checks at schools.
When will I know my results?
Students will be getting their grades a little earlier this year – the week of August 9th.
Results days have been shifted by two weeks to give students more time to appeal their grades if they wish.
This is especially important for students who are pursuing university studies or training courses where they could lose their place if their grades fall below expectations.
All students will be allowed to appeal their grades.
Colin Lane / Liverpool Echo)
What is rating inflation and why are people worried?
One of the big concerns with the plan is that it could lead to grade inflation – where more students get top grades than normal years.
This can be a problem if it means higher scores are losing value.
Mr Williamson confirmed that there would be “no algorithm” used to moderate the marks, relying instead on the judgment of the teachers.
He told MPs: “Teachers have a good understanding of their students’ performance and how they compare to other students in this year and those in previous years.”
The education secretary said teachers would receive guidance on grading and schools and examination boards would conduct audits to make sure the system is fair.
“Quality assurance by the review boards will provide meaningful control of the system and ensure that we can eliminate malpractice,” he said.
However, critics fear that failure to peg this year’s ratings to previous years will result in rating inconsistencies and mass rating inflation.
Natalie Perera, Executive Director of the Education Policy Institute, said: “Without timely and detailed guidance for schools on how this year’s grades should compare to previous years, and with classroom assessments only optional, there is a significant risk that schools will take very different approaches to grading. “
She said this could lead to “extremely high inflation, which could be of little value to colleges, universities, employers and young people themselves.”
Robert Halfon, the conservative chairman of the education committee, also warned that ministers risked “making an inflation cake in the system” – which he said could hurt children’s chances in life.
What about calls?
There should be a wave of appeals after the notes are released – hence the decision to bring results day forward to give officials time to deal with complaints.
Natalie Perera, of EPI, warned that inconsistencies in grades could lead to “a large number of students appealing their grades this year.”
Officials should prioritize students who could lose university or college places, or jobs if they miss their grades.
But an avalanche of complaints could put a strain on the system.
How will the teachers do?
Unions have raised concerns about the extra workload for teachers when preparing assessments for all students.
Dr Mary Bousted, co-secretary general of the National Education Union, said the move was the “least worst option available” but asked how teachers would fare.
“Considerable time will need to be set aside for initial assessments and grades, followed by internal school moderation processes; additional staff may well be needed to free teachers for this important work, ”she said.
Teachers could also come under pressure from parents angry about grades.
Sir Jon Coles, former Director General of the Department of Education who reportedly resigned his post as Ofqual Advisor for Exams, tweeted: “The system seems to be: opening up teachers / schools to substantial pressure from parents to inflate before and at the time of award; create a lot of work; and risk a situation where, in August, teachers will be criticized for grossly inflated results. “