A Level and GCSEs: Next steps at 17 August 2020

Here we will try to summarise:

  • the key developments over the weekend (15/16 August 2020)
  • AoC’s line
  • what might be coming next (at at 1pm on 17 August)

Update on developments

The A-level and GCSE issue is now centre of the national news and political debate with growing doubt and anger at the way that Ofqual and DfE have handled grading in the absence of exams.  The letter from the Schools Minister, Nick Gibb, summarises the government’s weekend position which is:

  • The A-level results issued are “fair for the vast majority of students” but there is a triple lock in place to give students either their calculated grade, an appeal based on a “valid mock” or an autumn resit.

  • Ministers will oversee the appeals process via a Gold command meeting chaired by the schools minister. As normal, the four exam boards will manage appeals sent in by centres but DfE has extended the valid reasons for accepting appeals to include significant change in leadership meaning that previous grades are no longer reliable and to address concerns that grade profiles have fallen inexplicably. SFCA’s survey published today

  • An acknowledgement - for the first time from DfE - that large or young centres will get urgent attention. Nick Gibb spoke to at least one principal over the weekend.

  • A rule that a valid mock result will replace the calculated grade. Ofqual issued restrictive guidance about what that might be on Saturday afternoon, withdrew it on Saturday night and has not yet reissued the guidance.

  • The promise that DfE will cover the appeal fees for state funded schools and colleges.

If there is no further government action, the appeals route remains the best immediate way to correct injustice for individual students. Even if there is further action, there will be many cases where a good appeal is the best route.

DfE’s actions have not settled the issue. Ofqual’s delay and  withdrawal of the guidance on mocks shows that there are arguments and disagreement. Meanwhile Labour’s leader has called on the Prime Minister to hold a press conference. The Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, appears to be planning a press conference on Monday at 4pm

 There are growing calls for further changes including:

  • The replacement of all calculated grades with centre assessed grades. Scotland did this for Highers. Northern Ireland has announced this today for their GCSEs

  • Delay to the issue of the GCSE results

Legally decisions rest with Ofqual and the Education Secretary.

AoC’s call for action

AoC issued a statement this morning asking for the algorithm to be overridden to ensure that no Centre Assessed Grade will be downgraded by more than one grade

Our specific asks are for DfE and Ofqual to:

  1. Acknowledge the systemic bias of this year’s approach to grading. Minimising grade inflation has not worked because of the unfair outcomes. Instead, the Education Secretary 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. Set 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. Work 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. Announce 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.

AoC staff are working on a detailed paper to incorporate the information many of you have shared and the large amount of external research, including SFCA’s excellent survey produced today which shows that:

  • grades awarded to students this year were lower in all 41 subjects than they were for the average of the previous three years.

  • 19% of sixth form college students have been left with lower grades than they would have received if they had sat their exams in previous years

What happens next?

It’s always hard to predict fast moving events but we know:

  • That Conservative MPs have been told there will be announcement at 4pm

  • That college and school staff have spent the weekend working on appeals so they are ready but that this is before the official guidance is out. Hopefully this will be out at 4pm.

  • That further A-level concessions are highly likely. The government has tried to hold the line but may be forced to make changes that are manageable (hopefully like the ones we have proposed).

  • There is a risk of GCSE delays. Our public position is that delay without a clear way forward would make the situation worse for the half-a-million candidates, including many who’d be hoping to start college soon.