A set of principles to ensure that students are assessed fairly following the cancellation of exams in England has been drawn up by six education unions and professional associations.
It calls for recognition of the widely varying extent to which students have been disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, clear guidance and support for schools and colleges, assessment based on a range of evidence, and strong external quality assurance processes.
The principles also make clear that appeals must be handled by awarding organisations rather than this responsibility being landed on schools and colleges. Ofqual and the Department for Education are expected to release final plans later this month about how students taking GCSEs, A-levels, and other qualifications will be assessed this summer. This follows a consultation exercise which closed last Friday (29 January).
Now the Association of Colleges (AoC), Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), National Education Union (NEU), NASUWT teachers’ union, and National Governance Association (NGA) have joined together to draw up a set of principles to underpin a system that is fair and consistent. This is in addition to their own individual responses to the consultation.
The principles include:
- Awarding organisations should set out what standard is required for students to achieve each grade and these standards should recognise that students may have studied less of the course than usual due to the pandemic. Students should be able to demonstrate a standard of work in the content they have been taught. The standards should be consistent across all awarding organisations.
- Schools and colleges should be able to assess students on a range of evidence, with clear criteria from the awarding organisations about the types of evidence that can be used. Awarding organisations should provide support, guidance and assessment materials.
- Schools and colleges should be given clear and consistent guidance from awarding organisations about how to conduct internal quality assurance, and all schools and colleges may be moderated and required to provide evidence to the awarding organisation for the grades they have submitted for some students.
- Awarding organisations retain responsibility for issuing grades, and appeals should therefore be made directly to awarding organisations, and not to schools and colleges as suggested in the Ofqual/ DfE consultation.
David Hughes, Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges, said:
“Students being assessed in 2021 have faced unprecedented differential disruption to their learning and they deserve the best chance at success. We understand the challenges of developing alternatives to an exam series and believe this set of principles will be key to ensuring the system for all qualifications achieves fairness and builds confidence.”
Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said:
“It is imperative that students are assessed as fairly and consistently as possible following the cancellation of exams, and that we avoid any repeat of the chaos of last summer. We believe that the principles we have jointly set out will give us the best chance of achieving that objective.”
Paul Whiteman, General Secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said:
“It’s important for young people’s sake that schools and colleges are able to award students the grades they deserve this year, allowing them to move forward with their chosen next steps. The education profession believes these principles will help that happen.”
Dr Patrick Roach, General Secretary of the NASUWT, said:
“The impact of this pandemic has resulted in entirely unprecedented pressures on teachers and school and college leaders. Therefore, it is imperative that the solution for qualifications this summer takes full account of the extraordinary conditions in which school and college staff are working by avoiding the addition of excessive and unnecessary workload burdens on teachers and leaders.”
Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the NEU, said:
“There are many details still to be finalised after the close of the consultation, but this document shows there is clear consensus amongst the profession on many of the issues. For the sake of grades which are as fair and consistent as possible for all students, it is important that DfE and Ofqual now take on board the principles laid out here.”
Emma Knights, Chief Executive of the National Governance Association, said:
“The uncertainty and tension generated by trying to establish a reasonable and unbiased alternative to exams for 2021 has required a joint and practical response from the education sector. Pupils, parents, staff and headteachers along with their governing boards have already endured so much strain because of this pandemic, and while a perfect solution is impossible, a rapid and fair response as laid out through these principles can and must be delivered without further delay.”
You can read the joint statement on principles below.