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Headteacher warns fairly-earned A-level and GCSE results could be downgraded

PUBLISHED: 10:22 10 August 2020 | UPDATED: 12:12 10 August 2020

Copleston High School principal Andy Green. Picture: COPLESTON HIGH SCHOOL

Copleston High School principal Andy Green. Picture: COPLESTON HIGH SCHOOL

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School leaders in Suffolk have raised concerns that A-level and GCSE students could see their hard-earned results downgraded at the final hurdle - through no fault of their own.

Concerns have been raised that students' GCSE and A-level grades could be downgraded this year. Picture: Rui Vieira/PA WireConcerns have been raised that students' GCSE and A-level grades could be downgraded this year. Picture: Rui Vieira/PA Wire

Copleston High School principal Andy Green said he fears some young people could be “disadvantaged” by exam regulator Ofqual’s decision to adjust some grades, so they are more in line with schools’ historical assessments.

With all exams cancelled this year due to the coronavirus crisis, it is understood the move is designed to stop so-called “grade inflation” - teachers awarding students higher marks than they might have otherwise achieved.

However, Graham White, from the Suffolk branch of the National Education Union (NEU), urged the government to trust teachers – while Mr Green warned that some students “could potentially be disadvantaged”.

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Geoff Barton, pictured here in 2017 when he stood down as headteacher of King Edward VI School in Bury St Edmunds. Picture: GREGG BROWNGeoff Barton, pictured here in 2017 when he stood down as headteacher of King Edward VI School in Bury St Edmunds. Picture: GREGG BROWN

In a statement, Ofqual stressed that: “Students will be able to appeal, through their school or college, if they believe a mistake has been made or that something has gone wrong in their case.”

Mr Green said: “I don’t doubt they’ve tried very hard to make the statistical model fair and have looked at a number of models before making their choice.

“As soon as the government decided to cancel public examinations, Ofqual had a difficult situation to manage and I think they’ve done the best they can.

“However, it’s very difficult for it to be as fair as children sitting exams, as we know that some students thrive in an exam situation.

Graham White, from the Suffolk branch of the National Education Union. Picture: GRAHAM WHITEGraham White, from the Suffolk branch of the National Education Union. Picture: GRAHAM WHITE

“Also, past performance - which prior attainment is based on - is not always a reliable indicator of how students will perform in the present or the future.”

Mr Green said he appreciated that options of exam re-sits and appeals would be open to students, which may help redress any unfair results.

But he said: “Those students will then be in the midst of A-level courses or have decided which university to go to already.

“The biggest problem is that there are going to be some students who are going to get lower grades than they would’ve hoped for and worked for, because the model is based partly on prior attainment.

“We always get students who shine in exams and there’s not going to be a chance for them to shine this year.”

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In an explanation on the standardisation process, Ofqual said: “The process will consider prior attainment at centre level, not at individual student level.

“Students’ individual performance will not be predetermined by their prior attainment at Key Stage 2 or GCSE.”

However, it also says: “Standardisation will draw on the historical outcomes of a centre as well as the prior performance of students in this year’s cohort.”

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Education secretary Gavin Williamson has said that: “It is vital that students with exceptional circumstances are not held back by the way grades have been calculated - including those who are highly talented in schools that have not in the past had strong results, or where schools have undergone significant changes such as a new leadership team.”

However, he has argued that: “This appeals process does this.

“Students will also have the opportunity to take exams this autumn if they are unhappy with their grades.”

Mr White said: “I don’t believe teachers would say: ‘Let’s bump up everyone’s grade by one.’ That’s not how they operate.

“Teachers will do what’s right for their pupils – and that means giving them the grades they deserve.

“I’m afraid we seem to be in a situation again where we don’t trust teachers to do what’s best for their pupils. Inflating grades is not going to help them.

“We want children to get the grades they deserve.”

Geoff Barton, former headteacher of Bury St Edmunds’ King Edward VI School and now general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “There is a concern among several schools that results will be pulled down by a process which looks at the historical results of each school when deciding on the final grades.

“Ofqual has said the process will also take into account the prior attainment of pupils and won’t just rely on historical data, and it has set out a number of grounds for appeal.

“It is obviously a very difficult situation, and we will be closely looking at the results when they are published, gathering feedback from members, and responding accordingly.”

An Ofqual spokesman added: “It is important that students understand their options, including the possibility of an appeal, if they do not receive the grade they expected.

“We are committed to helping students, and their families, understand the options available to them and will be publishing information on how appeals will operate this summer.”


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