AoC responds to Ofqual announcement on summer GCSEs and A Levels

Published: 03 Apr 2020

Overview and AoC response

The covid-19 pandemic has driven Ofqual and DfE to implement an extraordinary turnaround in the assessment system for general qualifications in England. The traditional high dependence on written exams will be transformed this summer to a system driven by teacher assessment and moderated by statistical modelling.

This is a sensible and pragmatic approach and everyone involved should be applauded for moving so quickly to set it up. It has taken a truly collaborative approach between many parties which AoC has supported throughout. The announcement today still leaves much of the detail to be filled in - that is understandable given the speed at which people have had to work and we are confident that further details of how this will be implemented by the awarding organisations will follow in good time.  It also allows us to ensure that the new processes work for colleges which commonly have over a thousand students taking GCSEs in English and maths and large cohorts taking A Levels. 

The new process places high trust in teachers and centres to provide Centre Assessed Grades by the 29 May deadline. We know that colleges will approach this process rigorously and professionally in order to generate accurate and fair outcomes. It is in everyone’s interest to achieve public confidence in the validity of this summer’s grades so that they are valued and respected by colleges, universities and employers alike.

AoC will be supporting our members as they implement these new processes and to ensure that no student is disadvantaged. We will be offering webinars on this on Tuesday 7April at 2pm and Tue 21 April and further information about registering for these will be sent to colleges shortly. We will continue to work with Ofqual and the awarding organisations on this to ensure standardisation and to help with the equalities impact assessment.

We are also working hard with Ofqual, DfE and awarding organisations to agree a way forward for the hundreds of thousands of students taking vocational and technical qualifications and functional skills this summer. Those students need reassurance about how their studies will result in the qualifications they have worked so hard for.  We look forward to guidance being issued shortly.

We also welcome the government’s decision to cancel the publication of performance tables for 2020 in this unprecedented year. 

Our main areas of focus now are:

The ranking process

Ranking is a vital part of the process in order help moderate grade predictions across different centres.  We think it is reasonable to expect teachers to rank the students they teach and for the centre to submit these teacher rankings to the awarding organisations. Candidates in most centres, mainly in schools, will be ranked in relatively small groupings, the average GCSE maths entry in schools is around 150.

However, in a large college with large numbers of candidates in many subjects and multiple subject teachers, trying to rank every individual candidate at institutional level poses real challenges without necessarily enhancing accuracy. For example, over 100 colleges have a GCSE maths entry of more than 500. With these numbers, it will be very difficult to agree one ranking for every student across the whole cohort. This would involve a large number of teachers having to reach agreement about the ranking of every one of hundreds of candidates in their subject. This is simply not feasible in lockdown and is particularly difficult for the very large GCSE English and maths cohorts in many colleges where the great majority of students will be in the grade 4 and grade 3 bands.

We are discussing with Ofqual and the awarding organisations an approach which would allow large centres to be able to rank students in smaller sized groupings in order to achieve the same fair and rigorous outcomes for students. 

The proposed autumn exam series

Given all of the uncertainty for students, we support the opportunity for some of them to take exams in the autumn but we feel that this should be limited because the centre assessed grades should be fair, accurate and robust in the first place. Widespread use of an autumn series in term time will be logistically very difficult, put pressure on schools and colleges, could be a serious distraction for students who are studying new courses and could reinforce inequalities. The emphasis in the 2020/21 academic year should be on supporting students to catch up after a very disrupted last two terms, move forward and succeed on their new programme rather than seeking to improve on a grade awarded in 2020.

Equalities impact

There are difficult equalities issues with the proposed approach, with potential for some groups of students to do less well than others. The equalities impact assessment needs to take into account the research evidence on this, such as the findings that there is systemic under-prediction for black and minority and disadvantaged candidates in university admissions. We will work with others to correct for this so that no students face additional disadvantage.

Exam fees

We will seek to agree a way forward on exam fees which works for colleges and awarding organisations.