GCSE and A-level pupils could sit mini exams to aid grading

GCSE and A-level pupils could sit mini exams to aid grading

A-level, AS and GCSE students in England could be asked to sit mini external exams to help teachers with their assessments after formal exams were cancelled last week.

In a letter to the exams regulator, Ofqual, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said this would help teachers to decide “deserved grades”.

He promised not to use an algorithm which led to controversy last summer.

Head teachers said the “devil was in the detail” for these plans.

The letter was published on Wednesday morning, as Mr Williamson appeared before the Education Select Committee.

In the letter to Ofqual he said: “A breadth of evidence should inform teachers’ judgments, and the provision of training and guidance will support teachers to reach their assessment of a student’s deserved grade.

“In addition, I would like to explore the possibility of providing externally set tasks or papers, in order that teachers can draw on this resource to support their assessments of students.”

Mr Williamson’s pledge not to use an algorithm to determine grades comes after thousands of A-level students had their results downgraded from school estimates last summer – before Ofqual announced a U-turn allowing them to use teachers’ predictions.

“We have agreed that we will not use an algorithm to set or automatically standardise anyone’s grade,” the letter says.

“Schools and colleges should undertake quality assurance of their teachers’ assessments and provide reassurance to the exam boards. We should provide training and guidance to support that, and there should also be external checks in place to support fairness and consistency between different institutions and to avoid schools and colleges proposing anomalous grades.”

But he added: “Changes should only be made if those grades cannot be justified, rather than as a result of marginal differences of opinion.

“Any changes should be based on human decisions, not by an automatic process or algorithm.”

A consultation on plans for this year is being launched later this week.

Geoff Barton, head of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the letter set out “broad and sensible parameters for assessing GCSEs and A-levels following the cancellation of exams”.

“But, as ever, the devil will be in the detail of how this is turned into reality,” Mr Barton said.

“We are relieved to see confirmation that no algorithm will be applied this year following last summer’s grading debacle.”

“One of the key issues, however, will be precisely how any system of externally set assessment would work and how this can be done in a way that ensures fairness for students who have been heavily disrupted by the pandemic.

“It is vital that the final plans not only provide fairness and consistency but that they are also workable for schools, colleges and teaching staff who will have to put them into practice.”

Taking questions from MPs on the education select committee, Mr Williamson said he wanted to see schools re-opening at the earliest opportunity and that he would “never apologise for being the biggest champion for keeping schools open”.

He said attendance rates of vulnerable and key worker pupils in schools since the start of term were higher than in the first lockdown.

And he defended the Department for Education’s decision to order Greenwich Council to keep its schools open in the last week of the autumn term, saying that their Covid case numbers were far lower than many areas of the north of England and the Midlands, where schools had stayed open.

“It would have been remiss of us and wrong of us,” Mr Williamson said to allow Greenwich to close in these circumstances.

“At that stage none of us were aware of the new variant and the implication that would have for case rates.” he added.

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