Coronavirus (COVID-19) Advice for schools and academies on the summer 2020 grading of pupils

As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, Ofqual has published the Guidance document Summer 2020 grades for GCSE, AS and A level, Extended Project Qualification and Advanced Extension Award in maths: Information for Heads of Centre, Heads of Department and teachers on the submission of Centre assessment grades and also published further guidance for teachers, students, parents and carers.

We are getting a number of queries at Stone King on how best to communicate with parents about grading and have drafted a statement for schools and academies, plus highlighted other areas to be aware of.

The Ofqual guidance

The Ofqual guidance includes the following:

  • The centre assessment grades submitted to exam boards must reflect a fair, reasonable and carefully considered judgement of the most likely grade a student would have achieved if they had sat their exams this summer and completed any non-exam assessment. Centre heads should emphasise the need for judgements to be objective and fair
  • Teachers should draw on existing records and available evidence – the list provided and includes ‘any other relevant information’
  • 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.
  • Data subjects (students) are able to request their personal data under Article 15 of the General Data Protection Regulation. However, in respect of personal data such as marks or other information processed by a Data Controller for the purposes of determining results, an exemption from disclosure exists under paragraph 25(2) [Schedule 2], Data Protection Act. This allows Data Controllers (in this case centres) to delay disclosure of such information until after results have been issued.
  • Under the circumstances, the normal arrangements for reviews of marking and appeals will not apply. We are considering what arrangements might be put in place to allow an effective appeal and will consult on proposals shortly. Centres should expect the possible grounds of appeals to be relatively narrow and based on application of the process. In submitting data to exam boards, centres should make sure that it is correct.

The Ofqual letter to students includes the following:

  • Can I see the grades my school/college submits for me? No, this information will be confidential. Please don’t ask your teachers, or anyone else at your school or college, to tell you the grades they will be sending to the exam boards or where they have placed you in the order of students; they will not be allowed to share this with you.

The full Ofqual exams guidance can be read here.

What schools should be aware of

All of the above raises three particular questions that are of immediate interest to schools:

  • What in the above list does ‘any other relevant information’ refer to? and,
  • How should schools manage and consider further information submitted by parents?
  • Although it is clear that school should not discuss or tell students or parents what grades are submitted to examination boards, and such information is exempt from data subject access requests (SARs) prior to exam results being published, how should schools manage SARs once exam results have been published?
Other relevant information

Schools will need to carefully consider how to engage with parents on the supply of such information. This, along with how the school considers any and all information about the pupils, will be key to protecting the school against any future claim that it was unfair to a student. It would therefore be prudent not to explicitly state that additional information is not needed as this would risk depriving the school of a source of “other relevant information”.  By reassuring parents in relation to what the guidance says about special consideration requests and reasonable adjustments when communicating with parents (see suggested letter below) parents should be reassured that there is less need than normal to take additional information into account, although parents can still act accordingly. Our advice is that this strikes a balance between openly inviting information (and the practicalities of dealing with this) whilst remaining open to other information that parents may provide in any event.

Acting fairly

Where further information is supplied or not, the key to showing the school was fair to the pupil will be demonstrating how that, and any and all other information about the pupil, was:

  1. determined to be either relevant or irrelevant and, if relevant;
  2. how that was then considered as part of the judgment made about grades and ranking. 

This two-stage process should be well-documented in the event that the judgment is subject to further scrutiny.

Suggested action

When information is received from parents, schools should consider the following approach:

  • Acknowledge receipt thanking parents for the information and reiterating the fact that they cannot discuss with the parents the grades that the school will be submitting;
  • File the information and consider whether there is anything to include in ‘any other relevant information’ and make a note of their decision on this (as above), in the event of a later SAR.
Subject Access Requests

To confirm, the personal data of pupils held by and Academy Trust or a maintained school, either:

  1. for the purposes of determining the results of an exam, or
  2. in consequence of the determination of the results of an exam

can be accessed by the pupil, but only after the exam results have been published (para 25(2) Schedule 2, Data Protection Act 2018).

Whilst this could provide material for the parent to scrutinise the decision further, subject to the usual exemptions that apply, the school would have to make this information available in order to comply with its Data Protection obligations.

Suggested statement to parents

“Students who had been preparing for their GCSE, AS or A level examinations this summer received a letter from Ofqual via their school that explains the process for being awarded grades this summer. We know that this has been a worrying time for young people. Our teachers will be working hard to give the examination boards accurate assessments of the grades that students deserve. They will be considering all the information they have and will be paying careful attention to the expectation that students should get the grade they would most likely have achieved if they had taken examinations, and that it is no easier or harder for a student to achieve a particular grade this year, compared to previous years. 

"In these circumstances the usual special consideration requests, in the event that a student is unable to take an assessment or suffers a traumatic event that might affect their performance, will not apply this summer. Instead judgements will be based on how the students would have performed under ordinary circumstances. Where illness or other personal circumstances might have affected performance in mock exams (or in some cases other assessed work, this will of course be considered when making our judgment.

"Similarly, where disabled students have an agreed reasonable adjustment (for example a reader or scribe), or other students have an agreed access arrangement, the school’s judgement will take account of likely achievement with the reasonable adjustment/access arrangement in place. 

"Our teachers are not allowed to discuss the grades they will be submitting with students or their parents. We ask that all pupils and parents respect this requirement of the examination boards.

"Students should continue to carry out work provided by their teachers but schools have been told they must be cautious about assessments of work completed after schools were closed on 20 March.

The guidance that schools are working to can be found here.

"Please be assured that your teachers are giving very close attention to the expectations on them.” 

The law and practice referred to in this article or webinar has been paraphrased or summarised. It might not be up-to-date with changes in the law and we do not guarantee the accuracy of any information provided at the time of reading. It should not be construed or relied upon as legal advice in relation to a specific set of circumstances.

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