Ofqual GCSE and A-Level Grading: Inequality for Disabled Students
Disabled students are much less likely than their peers to be awarded their teacher-assessed GCSE/A-Level grades under Ofqual’s assessment system – find out ALLFIE’s view.
Due to Covid-19, Ofqual have decided to put a different system in place to award GCSE and A-Level candidates with grades in lieu of all examinations being cancelled as a result of school and college closures. This briefing covers:
- GCSE and A Level Grades: What We Understand is Happening Now
- An explanation of this year’s Ofqual A-Level and GCSE Grade Awarding arrangements
- The Computer Algorithm
- Disabled Students and Reasonable Adjustments
- What are the Consequences of Ofqual’s Grading Arrangements?
- What to do if you are unhappy with your GCSE/A Level results
- ALLFIE’s View
- BTEC Students
- Further reading on Ofqual’s assessment system
GCSE and A Level Grades: What We Understand is Happening Now
On 13th August, Ofqual published the 2020 A Level examination grades. It did not take long before students voiced their anger over the results, many of them being awarded grades well below their predicted ones. Significant fury resulted with Ofqual releasing and withdrawing guidance on how they were going to fix the grading system. On 17th August, the Government announced a remarkable U-turn on how students were to be awarded their GCSE and A Level grades. The qualifications regulator Ofqual issued a press release stating that:
“..students [are to] be awarded their centre assessment for this summer – that is, the grade their school or college estimated was the grade they would most likely have achieved in their exam – or the moderated grade, whichever is higher.”
ALLFIE supported the anger expressed by students, parents, schools and colleges impacted by Ofqual’s A-Level grading arrangements. Many students found out, to their horror, that their final A-Level grades did not reflect their teacher-assessed grades. According to the national press 40% of A-Level teacher-assessed grades have been downgraded by one or more grades by Ofqual, so it’s no surprise that they took their protest to the Department for Education offices and Gavin Williamson, the Secretary of State for Education. Within days, students began a crowdfunding campaign to mount a legal challenge against Ofqual’s A-Level grade allocation system.
An explanation of this year’s Ofqual A-Level and GCSE Grade Awarding arrangements
To ALLFIE’s disappointment the public have been led to believe that this year’s GCSE and A-Level grades would have been the ones awarded by their subject teachers. However, since the publication of the A-Level results, we have learnt that Ofqual have been using a computer algorithm to allocate individual students their A-Level grades. We also understand that Ofqual planned to use the same computer algorithm to award students their final GCSE grades due to be published on 21st August.
The Computer Algorithm
Individual students’ A-Level and GCSE grades will be based on the following:
- Schools or colleges’ objective assessments using evidence of students’ performance in classwork, bookwork, homework, mock examinations, AS Level results and the like.
- Students’ rank order, which reflects the likelihood of them achieving each subject grade.
- The expected distribution of grades at the national level are broadly in line with previous years
- Schools and colleges’ results in previous years and the prior attainment of students at school and college levels.
Disabled Students and Reasonable Adjustments
Disabled students’ A-Level and GCSE grades must reflect their academic performance after taking into account any reasonable adjustments such as the use of a reader, scribe or other access arrangements as agreed by the examination board.
What are the Consequences of Ofqual’s Grading Arrangements?
Students attending private schools, grammar schools or highly selective schools have been awarded their teachers’ assessed A-Level and GCSE grades, particularly higher ones because there would have been similar attainment patterns in previous years.
Students with a traditional intake of children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are very unlikely to be awarded their teachers’ assessed A-Level and GCSE grades, particularly higher ones if there have been no similar attainment patterns in previous years which negates underlying reasons.
Disabled students and children from working class backgrounds, regardless of ability, are more likely to attend non-selective than selective schools and therefore would be placed at a substantial disadvantage in being awarded teachers’ A-Level/GCSE assessed grade, particularly higher ones if there has been no similar attainment patterns in previous years.
The DfE’s published GCSE league tables shows that Disabled students attending special schools, alternative provision and pupil referral units are much less likely than their peers to be awarded their teacher-assessed GCSE/A-Level grades; particularly higher ones if there have been no similar attainment patterns in previous years.
What are the current A Level Grading Arrangements
ALLFIE welcomes OFQUAL’s decision to use teacher-assessment rather than the computer algorithm generated A Level and GCSE final grades. However, we recognise that some teachers will underestimate Disabled pupils’ achievements without independent moderation to ensure the assessment is fair. ALLFIE wants to hear from disabled students and parents experiences – do contact us.
What to do if you are unhappy with your GCSE/A Level results
OFQUAL has published a booklet explaining the revised GCSE and A- Level grading arrangements. The booklet includes an appeals process and can be found here: Student Guide to Post-16 qualifications results: Summer 2020
Ofqual’s proposed GCSE and A-Level grading allocation arrangements would have re-enforced intersectional inequality, that is overlapping of elitism, racism, classism and ableism prevalent throughout our public examination system. Disabled students including Black Disabled students, Disabled students of colour, Disabled travellers etc., are more likely to attend under-resourced schools situated in poorer communities. Therefore students attending schools in under-resourced communities, will have their grades capped simply because they attend schools within poorer areas; this is nothing more than outrageous discrimination. Ofqual’s suggestion, in their defence, that they were trying to be fair to all students by taking into account schools and colleges’ previous exam performance to avoid grade inflation is unjustifiable. ALLFIE does not believe for one moment that Ofqual was ignorant of the substantial advantage afforded to students attending selective school using the proposed computer algorithm to allocate GCSE and A-Level grades. Similarly, we do not believe that Ofqual were unaware that many disabled students attending schools with patterns of “low” GCSE/A-Level grades would also be placed at a substantial disadvantage under the proposed computer algorithm. ALLFIE believes the assessment process has been nothing more than a complete shambles – where students’ grades reflect the institution rather than students’ achievements. Our education system and associated social mobility should not reward white upper and middle class students and families who attend selective institutions, which do not welcome Disabled students and Disabled student from intersectional backgrounds and communities.
It is worth saying that the Ofqual and examination board algorithms for allocating GCSE and A-Level grades will remain oppressive and discriminatory as long as the aim of our public examination system is to avoid the “all must have prizes” notion and that there will always be winners and losers. Of course, we need formal assessments that reflect individual students’ achievements, but this must be done independently of current or previous students’ performances, whatever their educational setting.
BTEC students have not received their BTEC grades on the same day as their GCSE grades. The BTEC boards are now reviewing students’ grades. These are due to be published on 28th August 2020: Read the update on BTEC grade award timings.
Further reading on Ofqual’s assessment system
CrowdJustice. (2020). Challenge the Ofqual arrangements for summer 2020 exam grading. Retrieved from https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/challenge-Ofqual
FE Week. (2020, April 3). Coronavirus: An explainer on how GCSE and A-level grades will be awarded this summer. Retrieved from https://feweek.co.uk/2020/04/03/coronavirus-an-explainer-on-how-gcse-and-a-level-grades-will-be-awarded-this-summer
Ofqual. (2020). Student guide to post-16 qualification results: summer 2020. Retrieved from https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/student-guide-to-post-16-qualification-results-summer-2020 https://Ofqual.blog.gov.uk/2020/08/06/fairness-in-awarding
The Guardian. (2020, August 13). England A-level downgrades hit pupils from disadvantaged areas hardest. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/education/2020/aug/13/england-a-level-downgrades-hit-pupils-from-disadvantaged-areas-hardest
WhatUni? (2020). Coronavirus: How A-Level Grades will be Awarded in 2020. Retrieved from https://www.whatuni.com/advice/coronavirus-covid-19-updates/coronavirus-alevels-grades-awarded-in-2020/87371/