Exams have been cancelled – again. But this doesn’t mean your child can sit back, relax and take their foot off the gas. They still need to ensure they have a firm grasp of the content they have been taught. This is because the government has decided that teachers will be determining their students’ grades based on work they have done so far and on informal assessments and assignments they are yet to do. This method of awarding grades is formally called Teacher Assessed Grades.
How are grades normally assigned?
Under normal circumstances, exam boards assign grades. They independently set exam papers which are sat by students in exam conditions on the same date and time across the country. These papers are marked by examiners over the summer using a strict standardised mark scheme.
Alongside exams, some courses include NEAs (non-exam assessments) otherwise known as coursework. Teachers mark this coursework and send their marks to the exam boards. The exam board then takes a stratified sample of the marked coursework (i.e. a couple of coursework documents from each grade boundary) and checks that the marking is accurate. If the sample has been marked correctly then the grades are accepted. If the marking is too high or too low then the exam board will remark coursework from across the department.
After all coursework and exam papers have been marked, results are collated and grade boundaries awarded so that only a certain percentage of students achieve each grade.
Why this system of assessment is fair
- The exam papers test a carefully selected range of assessment objectives.
- The exam papers are planned to ensure that the entire specification is tested over a number of years.
- Nobody knows what’s in the exam papers before they are opened.
- Apart from NEA, all assessments are anonymous to avoid marking bias.
Why have exams been cancelled?
This year’s exams have been cancelled because students’ learning over the past year has been disrupted and inconsistent. Many teachers will struggle to cover the entire syllabus in time for exams, due to school closures and inconsistent online teaching.
When schools reopened in the autumn term, some student ‘bubbles’ were sent home to quarantine – leading to different levels of familiarity with the syllabus. Moreover, since a significant proportion of teaching in the past year has taken place online, the ‘digital divide’ between students caused by unequal access to technology (reliable internet connections, access to laptops, etc) means that some students have been especially disadvantaged in their learning.
Consequently, it would be unfair to award students grades based on nationwide standardised tests. It would also widen the attainment gap between students from different socioeconomic backgrounds.
As a result, the government has decided that the fairest way of assessing students is by using teacher assessed grades. After all, teachers are the people who know their students’ academic capabilities best. Students will be assessed only on what they have been taught, not what they have missed. This will ensure that students who attend schools where online learning was patchier or who experienced more sustained disruption to classroom teaching will not be unfairly disadvantaged.
The proposals being taken forward were supported in responses to the department and Ofqual’s largest ever consultation, with over 100,000 responses of which just over half (52%) came from pupils.The Department for Education
How will teachers decide on the grades they award?
Teachers must collect evidence throughout the remainder of the academic year that will act as proof that the grades they award their pupils are accurate and fair. This evidence needs to be robust; it’s not as simple as your child’s teacher coming up with a grade and submitting it to the exam board.
The DfE has said:
Teachers will be able to draw on a range of evidence when determining grades, including the optional use of questions provided by exam boards, as well as mock exams, coursework, or other work completed as part of a pupil’s course, such as essays or in-class tests. No algorithm will be used.
These assessment methods could include:
- Previous mocks
- Topic tests
- New assessments
- A bigger weighting on NEAs (if completed)
Debate around Teacher Assessed Grades
Not everyone is happy with the government’s decision to cancel exams. Many students are worried about teacher bias, especially students of colour who feel that they may not be awarded the grades they deserve.
On the other hand, some bodies – such as The Education Policy Institute – are worried about teachers inflating grades due to a lack of clear guidance.
Natalie Perera, the EPI’s chief executive, said that she agreed with the government’s decision to use teacher assessed grades but that there was “a significant risk” of schools using different approaches to how they assess their students. She said:
This could result in large numbers of pupils appealing their grades this year or extremely high grade inflation, which could be of little value to colleges, universities, employers and young people themselves.The Guardian
To try and combat grade inflation, exam boards will do quality assurance checks through a combination of random sampling and more targeted scrutiny.
When will your child find out their grades?
Ofqual have decided that Teacher Assessed Grades must be kept from students until results day. However, one exam board, OCR, disagrees with this approach. They believe that teachers should have ‘honest conversations’ with their students about the grades they will be able to award them based on the evidence they have. This, they say, will prevent ‘unpleasant surprises’ and also reduce the number of appeals submitted after results day.
- 18th June: Deadline for teachers to submit their grades
- 10th August: A-level results day*
- 12th August: GCSE results day*
*Exam results come out earlier than previous years to give students more time to appeal their results.
What happens if results day comes and your child isn’t happy with their results?
If your child is unhappy with their results then you can help them appeal. Any appeals made must first be submitted to the school. Appeals to the school can only be made on the grounds that an administrative error was committed (i.e. the school mistyped the mark or grade), not that your child’s teacher is wrong. If a student isn’t happy with their school’s response – which is likely to be that no administrative error was made – they can then appeal to the exam board. The exam board will then take in all the evidence that the teachers had submitted to come to their final grade. Once this has been reviewed students will either keep the grades the school gave them or the exam board will change them. If the exam board refuses to change your child’s grade, they will still have the chance to sit the actual exam(s) in the Autumn.