SSAT’s response to Ofqual announcement on arrangements for grading GCSEs

GCSE grading

We broadly support Ofqual’s approach to basing GCSE grades on teacher assessment for the 2020 exam series, given the ongoing crisis. It is right that young people are awarded the grade they deserve and that this holds the same value as previous awards; therefore, adjusting teacher assessment to reflect normal grade distribution is sound. There has also been guidance issued for AS- and A-levels – our response to this will be published over the coming days.

However, there are two specific issues that SSAT member schools have identified:

Schools’ previous results included in Ofqual’s redistribution formula
After schools send their teacher-assessed grades and rank students within each grade from secure to insecure, Ofqual will apply a national formula to mitigate any schools that have been too severe or too generous with grades; a formula which is still being worked on and which will be open to a brief consultation. The formula will take into account many factors, one of which is the school’s recent performance data. While we understand the need for fairness, we are concerned that this will unfairly disadvantage the students of schools which have made concerted efforts to improve in the last 12 months.

Given that the government has already confirmed school performance data for 2020 will not be published, this only disadvantages the individual students, not the school.
Many SSAT members have been in touch to say that they are honestly predicting significantly better results in 2020 than in previous years. For example, the hugely useful and influential Ofsted report KS3: The Wasted Years encouraged many schools to rethink their KS3 curriculum. As the report was published in autumn 2015, change from the report would only have started in 2016. This year’s Y11 cohort is therefore the first cohort to have undertaken their entire secondary education since the publication of the report.

We urge Ofqual – and recommend the government and parliament applies pressure if necessary – to ensure that the final formula does not disadvantage the students of schools which have rapidly improved, by limiting the weighting of schools’ previous results in the formula.

  • Including the school’s previous results in the redistribution formula will disadvantage students at schools which have made significant improvements. As performance tables are not being published, this only disadvantages individual 16 year-olds, not the school.
  • We suggest that school’s (centre’s) previous results are given a limited weighting in the formula, in relation to other factors such as the prior attainment of the cohort.

Year 10s not being eligible for teacher assessment
Our second issue with the Ofqual guidance is the proposal not to allow teacher assessments for current Y10s (and also any Y9s) entered for the summer 2020 series, but instead let them sit exams in the autumn, if possible, or in the summer 2021 series.

Many schools enter students for GCSEs in Y10 as part of a principled and thoughtful curriculum model. Although models differ greatly, a common feature is teaching the full GCSE in one year, or from Y9, in option subjects, and entering students in the summer of Y10 – in order to reduce the number of exams sat at the end of Y11 and support mental health and wellbeing. Whether schools enter students ‘early’ for exams or enter students solely for Y11 series is a matter for school leaders, and should always be made in the interests of students. Either way, Y10s entered for the 2020 series are likely to have received the same number of teaching hours as the current Y11s.

Not allowing teacher assessments for Y10s already entered for the 2020 series is problematic for many schools which operate these, or similar, curriculum models. Students may not have received any formal teaching since March and may be expected to sit exams just weeks after returning to school. Or else, schools will have to reduce their Y11 curriculum and make students study a full year of the same subject to sit in the 2021 series, rather than studying for a new option subject. Either way will lead to curriculum narrowing.

However, some SSAT member schools have voiced concern that having a ‘mixed-economy’ of teacher assessment for early-entry candidates and exam-only assessment for summer 2021 entries will negatively affect schools that offer a fully terminal exam curriculum model.

The only solution to this is for the government to confirm it will not publish school performance tables for 2021, meaning that any perverse incentives in the system are removed. This is a sensible proposal regardless of the early-entry issue, as the current Y 10s will of course be hugely disadvantaged from missing potentially 14 weeks of learning. Although all students will be in the same boat, it is generally acknowledged that the disadvantage gap is likely to grow due to school closures, and so schools serving more disadvantaged communities would be negatively affected.

If 2021 league tables are not published, then this removes any perverse incentives for schools to early entry. We also advocate only allowing Y10s already entered for the 2020 series (the deadline for which was mid-February) to be eligible for teacher assessment.

  • Not allowing teacher assessment for Y10s is unfair on students at school who operate a principled curriculum model that includes early-entry in Y 10. Candidates who are already entered for the 2020 summer series should be teacher-assessed in the same way as Y11s.
  • This would lead to a mixed economy in 2021 performance measures. Therefore, and because of the continued impact of the current disruption to students’ learning, the government should also confirm that 2021 school performance data will not be published.

Read Ofqual’s statement
How GCSEs, AS & A levels will be awarded in summer 2020

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