GCSE and A-level students in England could be asked to hold externally set papers to help teachers with their assessments after exams are canceled, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has suggested.
Mr Williamson has set out his expectations in a letter to the UK examination board Ofqual on how to replace the exams this summer to ensure that students get fair grades.
Teachers should finalize a student’s grade “as late as possible” to maximize remaining class time and ensure students remain motivated, the Education Minister said.
Last week, Williamson told MPs that he would like to use some form of teacher-graded grades to award results after announcing that GCSE, AS and A-level exams would be canceled as part of the pandemic.
In a letter to Ofqual’s chief regulatory officer, Simon Lebus, Williamson said he would like to “examine the possibility” of using externally set assignments or papers to help teachers assess students.
The Education Minister said the government had agreed not to use an algorithm to set or automatically standardize students’ grades. However, he said that external controls should be put in place to promote fairness and coherence between different institutions and to avoid schools “suggesting abnormal grades”.
Last summer, the scores of thousands of A-level students were downgraded from school estimates by a controversial algorithm before Ofqual announced a U-turn that would allow them to use teachers’ predictions.
Mr. Williamson said, “In my view, changes in grades as a result of the external quality assurance process should be the exception: the process does not involve the teachers’ second guessing of the judgment, but rather confirming that the process and evidence used to award a Grade is appropriate.
“Changes should only be made when these grades cannot be justified, and not because of minor disagreements. Changes should be based on human decisions, not an automated process or algorithm. “
A consultation on options for exam alternatives is due to be published by Ofqual later this week.
Mr Williamson’s message to Ofqual confirmed that most of the Vocational and Technical Qualifications (VTQ) written exams scheduled for February and March – including Btecs – will not be held.
However, he said that some VTQ assessments should still take place in the coming months if they are needed to “enable a student to demonstrate the skills required to immediately take up employment”.
Teachers should give their final assessment of student grades “as late as possible”.
In the letter, Mr. Williamson added, “I believe that a teacher’s final judgment on a student’s grade should be made as late as possible in the academic year in order to maximize remaining class time and ensure that students are motivated, to continue to get involved in training. “
Mr Lebus said, “We know that the fairer the evidence from students ‘performance in externally specified papers, the fairer and more consistent the teachers’ assessments will be, as all students will have the opportunity to show what they are doing in school can do same way. Objection rules should also be simpler.
“Such an approach, of course, means that teachers are less flexible about the evidence they might use. The consultation will carefully consider the issues involved and, given the benefits of creating consistent papers for students, whether or not teachers should be required to use them.
“Like you, we want to support and encourage students to focus on their education for the remainder of the academic year, including continuing with a non-exam assessment where possible.
“We suggest that the final determination of a student’s grade be made as late as possible in the academic year. We believe this will give students a greater sense of freedom of choice, which is critical to the wide acceptance of the results. “
The unions say the final plans must be fair and consistent
Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) said, “We are relieved to see confirmation that no algorithm is being used this year after last summer’s evaluation debacle.
“One of the main issues, however, will be exactly how an externally set grading system would work and how it could be done in a way that would ensure fairness for students who have been severely disrupted by the pandemic.
“It is important that the final plans not only ensure fairness and coherence, but are also actionable for schools, colleges and teachers who need to put them into practice.”