Colleges urge Education Secretary to admit there was bias in A Level grading

17 Aug 2020

England’s colleges are calling for the algorithm used to moderate A Level grades to be overridden and guarantee that no Centre Assessed Grade will be downgraded by more than one grade. 

The original aim of the approach Ofqual put in place was to retain confidence in the results. That has not been achieved. Now the explicit aim should be fairness for every student. To regain public trust in the education system, the Education Secretary must be clear that there was unwanted systemic bias in the approach to A Level grading and that this is an unacceptable outcome of an imperfect system in an exceptional year. He needs to acknowledge that this worked against colleges with large numbers of students – and favoured those with smaller numbers who have faced less adjustment. The approach has worked for many, but for tens of thousands it has not and that is unacceptable.

Too many have ended up with worse grades than they would have achieved. He must now put their interests to the forefront even where it means that some students will have results that are slightly better than they probably would have achieved. This can be achieved by ensuring that college and school results are at least as good as last year and guarantee that no Centre Assessed Grade will be reduced by more than one grade. With an unstinting focus on student fairness and progression, the steps needed now are: 

  1. Acknowledging the systemic bias of this year’s approach to grading. Minimising grade inflation has not worked because of the unfair outcomes. Instead, he should say he has decided to move to a system which puts fairness to every student at its heart and be more generous in the results given.
     
  2. Setting out nationally the intended outcomes of fairness and a simple process to achieve them. This will allow individual colleges and schools to model their grades and for Ofqual and awarding bodies to check them. This will be a quicker way to better outcomes than thousands of separate appeals. 
     
  3. Working with colleges, Ofqual and awarding organisations to undertake a short technical review of the grades awarded in every college and school where the results are unfair. He should establish a task force, with independent observers, tasked with the aim of achieving results which:
    a. give equivalent increases in higher grades for large cohorts to that experienced by small cohorts;
    b. ensure that results in every college and school are at least as good as last year;
    c. guarantee that no Centre Assessed Grade will be reduced by more than one grade
     
  4. Announcing that all CAGs of grade 4 for post-16 GCSE English and maths retake students will be honoured.
     
  5. Move quickly to avoid any delay to GCSE results by working closely with the relevant organisations to agree a way forward which everyone can buy into. This might require CAGs to be used, or a modification of that, but the key is to work in partnership to achieve a consensus and put the students interests first – give them a break this year of all years.


Chief Executive, David Hughes said: 

“The system has failed thousands of young people, through an imperfect system in an impossible situation. To rectify the chaos and disappointment so many find themselves in, the Education Secretary needs to give students a leg-up rather than punishing them by sticking to a failing algorithm.


In practice it would mean allowing students to at most achieve one grade more than they might have achieved. There would be slightly more grade inflation than the Ofqual model produced, but not much more. There is still time to salvage this and protect the futures of thousands of young people who stand to lose out through no fault of their own. But the Education Secretary must act now.”