For the second year running, responsibility falls on teachers to award exam grades to their students. After the fiasco of last summer which saw a controversial algorithm in place to moderate results (later withdrawn following a backlash from students and parents), the government has announced a return to teacher assessed grades, having given assurances that exams would take place this summer. Our advice to schools is not to delay in putting systems in place to facilitate assessments by teachers, ensuring that these are as robust as possible.
A package of support materials provided by exams boards is still awaited, as well as detailed guidance on how to determine grades. This means that any steps taken by schools now may need to be fine-tuned, but there is sufficient information to start planning now.
Teachers will have a large degree of flexibility in determining grades, looking at students’ performance throughout the entirety of the course, with a deadline of 18 June for results to be submitted to the exam boards. They may draw upon a range of evidence, including classwork, homework, mock exams and in-class tests. Schools may also use questions set by exam boards, based upon past papers and marked by teachers. This is completely optional. The failure to make the sitting of ‘mini exams’ in some shape or form compulsory may be a missed opportunity for ensuring some level of consistency between schools. Grade inflation is expected, as was the case last summer.
It is important that schools determine what factors they wish their teaching staff to consider and provide staff with clear guidance, in order to ensure fairness and consistency and provide an evidence base. Staff will need training and support. Exam boards will carry out random checks (as part of a quality assurance process).
Results day has been brought forward to 10 August for A-levels and 12 August for GCSEs. Students will be permitted to appeal their grades if dissatisfied with their teachers’ assessed grades. Schools will therefore need to have a review process in place and in cases where students remain dissatisfied, their appeal will be considered by the exam board. Schools should therefore be prepared for the process adopted by teachers, including all evidence in support of a grade, to come under detailed scrutiny. Exam boards may only alter grades in cases where the evidence submitted by a school does not support the grade that has been awarded. August could be a very busy time for schools!
Schools may wish to provide training to staff on unconscious bias, in order to minimise the risk of discrimination in the way grades are awarded, as well as any consequential reputational damage for the school.
Schools should also check that their complaints procedures are up to date. Last summer, we supported a number of schools which received formal complaints from parents who were dissatisfied with their children’s grades. Students may also submit data subject access requests (DSARs), hoping to be provided with all information used by teachers to support the award of a grade. These may well be made in August, after grades have been communicated to students, and the normal deadlines for responding to a DSAR will apply.
Some international exams may still take place, although an increasing number of providers have decided to cancel them for students in the UK (including Cambridge International and IB exams).
Be prepared for August to be even busier than normal. We are here to support you with any issues that may arise.