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Saturday, 22 June 2024
GCSEs and A-levels likely to be partly assessed by cut-down versions of exams
Gavin Williamson: ’A breadth of evidence should inform teachers’ judgments.

Education secretary to look into use of ‘externally set tasks’ to help teachers in England assess final grades

GCSE and A-level grades are likely to be assessed by schools partly using cut-down versions of exams, after the education secretary and England’s exam regulator included them as options in a consultation on how to award grades this summer.

Gavin Williamson, in a letter to Ofqual, the exam regulator for England, said he wanted to examine the use of “externally set tasks or papers” to help teachers assess the final grades their students will receive, with assessments replacing the full set of exams that have been cancelled this year.

Williamson told Simon Lebus, Ofqual’s interim chief regulator, that the Department for Education and Ofqual should hold a joint consultation lasting two weeks to determine the final process to be used in awarding grades for A-levels and GCSEs.

“A breadth of evidence should inform teachers’ judgments, and the provision of training and guidance will support teachers to reach their assessment of a student’s deserved grade,” Williamson said.

“In addition, I would like to explore the possibility of providing externally set tasks or papers, in order that teachers can draw on this resource to support their assessments of students. We should seek views in the consultation on what broader evidence should determine a teacher’s assessment of a student’s grade and whether we should require or recommend the use of the externally set tasks or papers.”

In response, Lebus told Williamson: “We know that the more the evidence comes from students’ performance in externally set papers, the fairer and more consistent teachers’ assessments are likely to be …. The consultation will carefully consider the issues related to this and, given the advantages of students taking consistent papers, whether teachers should be required to use them.”

Lebus noted: “It is important that the consultation makes clear to all, especially those who rely on the results to make selection decisions, that overall outcomes this year will likely look different from 2020 and previous years.”

Williamson’s letter also called for students “to be assessed based on what they have learned, rather than against content they have not had a chance to study”, in recognition of the havoc that Covid-19 has played in interrupting courses over the past two years.

And in recognition of last year’s debacle, with waves of protests from schools and parents over unfair grade allocations, Williamson added: “We have agreed that we will not use an algorithm to set or automatically standardise anyone’s grade.”

The consultation agreed by the DfE and Ofqual is likely to follow the model used by Wales, which has already announced that assessments for its A-level and GCSE students will be informed by tests set and marked by an examination board.

Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, which represents many secondary school headteachers, said: “We are relieved to see confirmation that no algorithm will be applied this year following last summer’s grading debacle.

“One of the key issues, however, will be precisely how any system of externally set assessment would work and how this can be done in a way that ensures fairness for students who have been heavily disrupted by the pandemic.”

Williamson’s message to Ofqual confirmed that written exams for vocational and technical qualifications scheduled for February and March would not now go ahead. For qualifications such as BTecs and Cambridge Nationals taking place this summer, Williamson said he expected they would be assessed in similar fashion to A-levels.

Lebus highlighted the need to cater for “private” candidates, who include self-taught or home-schooled students taking exams as independent candidates. Last year many complained that they were ignored and left unable to obtain a grade.

“We agree that we must also consider how any arrangements can allow private candidates to receive a grade. We will consider carefully the different experiences of private candidates and the opportunities available to them to make sure the approach is fair to all and that they are not disenfranchised,” Lebus wrote to Williamson.

source: Richard Adams