SSAT policy briefing paper – 23 April 2020

GCSE grading

Read the latest policy briefing paper from Tom Middlehurst, Head of Policy and Public Affairs at SSAT


  • School reopenings
  • Furloughing and schools
  • Disadvantaged students
  • Data and performance management
  • Ofqual consultation and summer exam arrangements
  • SSAT support

School reopenings
There has been unhelpful media speculations that schools may, or should, reopen in May. This is highly unlikely, as confirmed by the education secretary Gavin Williamson. The general secretary of ASCL, Geoff Barton has suggested that 1 June is the very earliest schools could reopen, and they must be given sufficient warning.

SSAT agrees schools should only reopen when there is no risk to staff, students and the wider community. Social distancing will not be possible in most schools.

It is also likely that ‘reopening’ will mean partial opening, for some students, for some of the time.

Gavin Williamson set out five criteria that must be met before schools reopen, which may be useful if schools are asked why they’re not open yet:

  • We can protect the NHS from being overburdened
  • There are falling Covid-19 death rates
  • There are falling Covid-19 infection rates
  • There is adequate testing and PPE facilities
  • There is confidence that a second peak can be avoided.

Williamson also confirmed that there are currently no plans for schools to open over the summer, neither for catch up curriculum time, or for the children of key workers and vulnerable children.

Furloughing and schools
The DfE have set out the guidelines for schools and the Government Retention Scheme, which involves furloughing staff.

It is not expected that many state schools will furlough any staff, as school budgets are being paid as normal regardless of closures. Certainly no staff paid from public money can be furloughed.

Where schools have private income streams (eg lettings, catering, sports), then they may need to furlough staff IF those staff are paid for out of private income, and IF they can no longer do their jobs because of Covid-19.

Private schools are able to furlough staff in order to retain jobs.

Disadvantaged students
Gavin Williamson announced on 19 April that the government is setting up a scheme to give disadvantaged year 10s laptops, which will then go to the school or academy when schools return.

Requests are made on a case by case basis, and must be through a business proposal submitted by either the local council or the academy trust (not individual schools or academies).

The online portal was due to open on Wednesday 22 April but has been delayed.

Likewise, Edenred continues to be an issue for school leaders. It might be worth noting that Aldi is now included in the national voucher scheme, but Asda seems to have (temporarily?) dropped out.

An additional 1.4 million people have signed up for universal credit, meaning schools’ FSM records may not be accurate. Government ministers have confirmed that schools should offer FSM to these families, before formal evidence of universal credit can be given.

It is not at all clear whether and how schools who set up local FSM arrangements will be reimbursed, or whether the national voucher scheme or local schemes are the preferred option. A government minister described the national vouchers as the ‘back-up’ where schools couldn’t provide FSM themselves. However, the official DfE guidance says schools will only be reimbursed when they have incurred costs higher than usual due to Covid-19; and where the national voucher scheme was unavailable (ie no local participating shops). This seems somewhat contradictory.

Data and performance management
The DfE have confirmed they are only collecting essential data at the moment, and other public data captures have been cancelled or paused; for example, the budget forecast for MATs is cancelled, and consistent financial reporting for maintained schools is paused until further notice.

School leaders and governors and trustees are also encouraged not to expect unnecessary data during this time.

It is also advised that KS2, KS4 and KS5 results should not be used for performance management purposes this year, including for headteacher appraisal.

Ofqual consultation and arrangements for summer exams
Ofqual launched their consultation on arrangements for GCSE, A-level and AS assessments last week. It is largely in line with the initial guidance paper but with a few key changes: ensuring year 10 and younger students already entered for exams can do so; greater detail about the appeals process; and consideration of schools’ improvement trajectories.

It may be helpful to think of this year as a five-step process – although of course this will contain many steps in between:

1. Teacher assessment
2. Ranking
3. Submission and national standardisation
4. Appeals
5. Autumn series

The consultation closes on Wednesday 29 April.

UPDATE – on 24 April, Ofqual also launched a consultation on technical and vocational subjects. For most school and college-based qualifications, this looks quite similar to the arrangements for GCSEs and A-levels – except that where qualifications already have substantial marks ‘banked’, exam boards may use a calculated grade, rather than a teacher assessed grade.

Which students and what counts?
SSAT was pleased that Ofqual are now proposing that any student already entered for summer 2020 series, including year 10s and year 9s, will be treated in the same way – and that if students were preparing to sit exams this summer, they can get a GCSE through the teacher assessment process.

There may be some allowance for late entries, if there is good evidence a late entry was going to be made. This will be at the discretion of individual exam boards. It is not yet clear whether tiered subjects will continue to be tiered, or whether candidates can change tier.

However, while individual students get the GCSEs, the results of year 10s and 9s this summer will not count in school performance measures in 2021 and 2022 respectively.

SSAT is campaigning for school performance data not to be published for the next three years.

Teacher assessment
Teacher assessed grades are not the same as target grades or working-at grades. They are a professional judgement on what a student is most likely to have achieved had they sat exams in the summer – and will need to draw on a range of evidence.

We know that some families have already been in touch with individual teachers to try to influence the grade they give – schools should be clear that this is not appropriate and that teachers are making professional judgements based on their expertise and knowledge of the child.

For each subject, schools will have to rank students within each grade from the most secure to least secure; effectively creating one rank for all students entered for that subject.

Where schools have mixed cohorts of year 11, year 10 and 9, or year 12 resits, for example, they should just submit one list of all candidates.

There has been some speculation that Ofqual may allow ‘batched’ ranking where students can be ranked equally. This isn’t confirmed, and if it goes ahead, will likely only be for very large cohorts of 500+, so is unlikely to impact on the school sector.

As such, schools may want to pay particular attention to the candidates at the tops and bottoms of each grade, as these are the ones most likely to have the teacher assessed grade changed through standardisation.

Schools may also want to be mindful of subjects where there tends to be a lot of grade clustering; which may be harder to distinguish between students. Examples include EPQs and English and maths resits.

There is discussion in the consultation that teacher assessment and rank ordering may be open to conscious and unconscious bias. Ofqual considered allowing exam boards to change a school’s rank to ensure that disadvantaged students and students with protected characteristics are not biased against. However, they have proposed not doing this – and as such a school’s rank order will not be changed at all.

SSAT recommends that schools consider where these students sit in each subjects’ ranks, more as a sense-check than a hard data decision.

Appeals and confidentiality
The appeals process outlined in the consultation seems to be very supportive of schools and allows them to make professional assessments without pressure or intimidation from parents.

Essentially, appeals cannot be made directly by students, but must come from schools on behalf of students. Ofqual are proposing that there is no appeal process against the teacher assessment, the rank order or the standardisation formula.

Instead, centres should only appeal on behalf of candidates if they feel the data they submitted has been used wrongly or become corrupted.

Students who do not feel they have the grade they deserve will be encouraged to sit the exams in the Autumn series.

There is also no appeals process outlined to take into account changes in a school’s circumstance (see standardisation, below).

Schools must not publish or let students or families know the teacher assessment grade or rank order until final results are published in the summer.

It is advisable not to make this data available after that time.

However, under data regulation laws and GDPR, individual students will currently be able to request their teacher assessed grades and place in the rank from the school. SSAT is advocating that this data is kept confidential in perpetuity in order to protect teachers and ensure integrity of the process.

There are three factors in the proposed national standardisation:

  • The previous results of the school
  • The prior attainment of the year 11 cohort in each school
  • National expected grade distribution

Ofqual considered using a school’s results trajectory in the formula, so that schools that are seeing a steady or rapid improvement would be treated fairly. However, due to the unreliability of this data, they are proposing not to take this into account.

As such, schools that have made rapid improvements in twelve months – for example due to new senior leadership, interventions, curriculum redesign – will not be able to have this accounted for; and there is currently no appeals process outlined for this.

Where schools have a significantly stronger year 11 than in previous years, based on incoming KS2 data, this will be reflected in the formula.

Head of Centre disclaimer
The head of centre will need to sign a legal disclaimer, essentially saying that the teacher assessed grades and ranking is reliable and authentic. There will be just one disclaimer for each exam board, not each subject.

In the most part, this shouldn’t present a problem for heads. However, it might be worth considering:

  • ‘Private’ candidates – eg returning students who were hoping to resit, but who haven’t had formal teaching or interaction from the school for a year.
  • Students taking MFL in languages they speak as mother tongue – where they may not have had lessons from the school.
  • Students who are new to the school.

In these and other cases, heads should speak to staff to see if evidence can be sought to make a professional judgement. If sufficient evidence cannot be found to make a professional judgement, then schools should not enter these students; and should instead enter them in the autumn series or 2021.

Autumn series
There is no date for the autumn series, but will only take place if and when safe to do so.

Only students already entered for the summer 2020 series will be eligible to sit the autumn exams. In reality, then, this means students who were not happy with the grade they received in the summer and think they can improve through exam performance.

It is not yet clear whether the results of any current year 10s or 9s (who will be year 11 and year 10 in the autumn) who sit the autumn exams will count in the 2021 and 2022 performance measures.

The usual November resit opportunity for English language and maths will also go ahead.

SSAT support

  • SSAT members are invited to attend a free Zoom webinar on leading the teacher assessment and ranking exercises, with Dylan Wiliam, Thursday 30 April at 4pm. For further information, contact your Relationship Manager.
  • SSAT’s head of policy, Tom Middlehurst, is able to offer bespoke one-hour Zoom sessions for small groups of SLT/HODs or governors. Tom will cover the issues above, and any further updates, with the chance to discuss openly and ask questions.
  • SSAT hopes to see many of you again face to face in the new year. Please save the date for the SSAT National Conference in Birmingham on 2-3 December. Please email Tom with any suggestions of topics you’d like to be covered.

Tom can be contacted by email or on Twitter.

One thought on “SSAT policy briefing paper – 23 April 2020

  1. Maureen Su on said:

    How do we sign up for the following?
    Free Zoom webinar on leading the teacher assessment and ranking exercises, with Dylan Wiliam, Thursday 30 April at 4pm


    Maureen Su

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