The COVID-19 pandemic has ostensibly led to questions from students and parents as to how academic, vocational and technical qualifications will be graded for the 2019/20 academic year. With many students across the country unable to attend physical assessments, Ofqual has published details for colleges and other education institutions on how GCSEs, AS and A Levels, and vocational and technical qualifications will be awarded this summer.
Below, we have summarised the key points from the guidance and other key areas to be aware of. Details of the published guidance for awarding qualifications this summer is available here.
- The Ofqual Guidance for the award of GCSEs, AS and A Levels
For this summer’s awards, colleges are being asked to provide centre assessment grades for students which must reflect a fair, reasonable and carefully considered judgement of the most likely grade a student would have achieved had they sat their exams this summer and completed any non-exam assessment. Such information is drawn from a range of sources including classwork, bookwork, participation in performances, coursework, mock assignment results, previous exam results, and any other records of student performance.
Where disabled students have an agreed reasonable adjustment (for example a reader or scribe), or other students have an agreed access arrangement, the judgement should take account of likely achievement with the reasonable adjustment/access arrangement in place.
Initially, the production of a calculated grade would only apply to students in year 11 or above. In response to representations from centres and parents indicating that receiving no grade this summer would hamper student progression, Ofqual has now considered widening the scope.
As of 15 April 2020, Ofqual has launched a consultation seeking views on the following key facets of its proposals:
- Provision of calculated grades for students in year 10 or below;
- The proposal for exam boards to issue results for private candidates for whom a head of centre can confidently submit a centre assessment grade and include the student in their centre’s rank order;
- The approach to standardising grades and the underlying principles of the same;
- Whether appeals should include the opportunity to review the centre’s judgments, procedures followed, and outcomes of statistical processes;
- The proposal to allow exam boards to run an autumn series of exams for students entered for the cancelled summer series.
- The Ofqual guidance for the award of technical and vocational qualifications
The nature of vocational and technical qualifications is complex, and typically feature a wide range of assessment approaches. Ofqual is working closely with the Secretary of State to establish the process for generating calculated results for technical and vocational qualifications where possible, so as not to disadvantage students. This may involve a review of an existing body of work and tutor assessments, similar to the approach taken with academic assessments (above).
In some cases, however, it will not be fair to students (or indeed possible) to produce a calculated grade, particularly where qualifications are designed to support progression to employment rather than to higher education. In such circumstances therefore, awarding organisations are encouraged to adapt assessments or delivery models so as to generate a reliable and fair result. In other cases, it may be most appropriate to reschedule assessments, so as not to disadvantage students.
Ofqual is currently working to finalise lists of qualifications and which approach is most appropriate in each case. The Association of Colleges and Sixth Form Colleges Association are also working closely with Ofqual on ensuring the best possible outcomes for students and colleges.
- Key points for colleges to be aware of
Colleges need to carefully consider how to engage with parents and students on the provision of information relating to calculated grades and changes to assessments. The calculated grades awarded this summer will be formal grades and will be accepted by higher education institutions; it is essential therefore that these grades provide a fair and accurate representation of attainment.
In considering “other records of student performance” in calculating grades, colleges must be able to demonstrate that this information is relevant and how it is considered as part of the judgment made about grades and rankings. All decision making should be well documented in the event that the judgment is subject to further scrutiny.
An additional point to note is that many students (or parents in some instances) may make a subject access request for information about how their exam results have been determined. In many cases, such a request must come from the student themselves (as they will likely be deemed to have capacity to understand their own personal data by virtue of their age) and as such, their parent or guardian will not have the right to make a subject access request on their behalf. Personal data in relation to the determination of calculated grades may only be provided following publication of exam results (para 25(2) Schedule 2, Data Protection Act 2018).