Coronavirus (COVID-19) Guidance 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.

07 August 2019 Update - We have further guidance on 2020 Exam Appeals for schools on our website: 2020 Exam Appeals Guidance for Schools

The Ofqual guidance

Following Ofqual’s consultation on its proposals for Summer 2020 exam grading which concluded on 29 April, and its analysis, Ofqual has updated its guidance Summer 2020 grades for GCSE, AS and A level, Extended Project Qualification and Advanced Extension Award in maths – Information for Heads of Centre, Head of Department/ subject leads and teachers on the submission of centre assessment grades (“the guidance”).

The guidance continues to reiterate that “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”. The guidance also confirms that the DfE has made it clear that no performance tables will be published based on 2020 results.

The key additions in light of the consultation are as follows:

The importance of objectivity

Ofqual recognises that no training has been provided to school and college staff on how to standardise these judgments. Guidance on the following areas is therefore provided based on existing research and analysis about how centre-based assessments can be carried out as objectively as possible.

  • Objectivity in grading and ranking decisions

The guidance stresses that only existing records and available evidence of a student’s knowledge, skills and abilities in relation to a subject should be used to inform a teacher’s professional judgment about each student’s likely performance at the time of the exam. Other factors, particularly those protected under equalities legislation, should not affect this judgement. A non-exhaustive list of other irrelevant factors includes: a student’s behaviour (both good and poor), character, appearance or social background, or the performance of their siblings.

Other factors discussed in more detail include:

  • Unconscious effects on objectivity and how to be aware of factors leading to unconscious bias;
  • How to consider information from previous data as a means of reducing the effects of unconscious bias;
  • Reviewing judgments as a means of ensuring that the above factors have been carefully considered. This can help a centre assure itself that it has complied with its Equality Act duties to promote equality and avoid discrimination, and that it has maximised objectivity and fairness in the judgments that it has made.

Ofqual has also produced the additional Guidance for Heads of Centre, Heads of Department and teachers on objectivity in grading and ranking.

Arrangements for appeals

The normal arrangements for reviews of marking and appeals will not apply. Ofqual will not allow the following:

  • Students challenging their centre assessment grade or their position in the centre’s rank order through an appeal;
  • Appeals in respect of the operation or outcome of the statistical standardisation model (pending a further investigation in to whether it might be possible and appropriate to allow for appeals where there is reliable evidence of a significant demographic difference between the centre’s cohort and the historical data used for statistical standardisation)

Ofqual will allow the following:

  • A student to ask their centre to check whether they made an error when submitting a centre assessment grade and including them in the centre’s rank order;
  • A student to raise a complaint to their centre if they have evidence of bias or that they were discriminated against; they could also pass such evidence on to the exam board who could investigate for potential malpractice;
  • A centre to appeal to an exam board on the grounds that the exam board used the wrong data when calculating grades, and/or incorrectly communicated the grades calculated;
  • As now, centres must have a procedure which allows students to request that a review is conducted of the centre’s decision not to appeal to an exam board

Following its consultation on the 2020 Autumn exam series Ofqual has published more details on appeals and confirmed autumn exam arrangements

Ofqual has confirmed the position regarding appeals as set out above and added additional clarity about how it expects students or others who have concerns about bias, discrimination or any other factor that suggests that a centre did not behave with care or integrity when determining the centre assessment grade and/or rank order information to address those concerns. That is that they should normally be raised with the exam centre, and only where there is evidence of serious malpractice on the part of the centre may it be appropriate to bring those concerns directly to the exam board in the first instance. Whether this expectation will be adhered to by pupils dissatisfied with their exam results remains to be seen but schools would be well-advised to make this expectation clear or risk facing misconceived legal action.

Ofqual has also followed up on their commitment to carrying out further work to consider whether to allow an appeal where a centre could evidence significant demographical changes in its cohort to justify changes in how the standardisation process was applied to its students. Whilst recognising such cases would be exceptional, it recognises that this can form a basis for an appeal and this is reflected in its draft statutory guidance which is being consulted on from 30 June to 14 July.

External Candidates

Further guidance on candidates that have worked with other centres is given and includes:

  • Communicating with private candidates;
  • Exam board guidance for centres;
  • Private candidates working with a new centre;
  • Evidence from specialist teachers;
  • Transferring a student’s entry to another centre with which the student has previously studied;

The importance of showing objectivity in grades and rankings awarded is a key theme in the Guidance. Whilst it maintains that students may not appeal their centre assessment grade or ranking but may raise a complaint with the centre, there remains a risk that schools may face legal claims in this regard. Therefore, using the Guidance as part of a careful recording of the objective rationale for all decisions is essential.

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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