Dear Ms Howard,
Thank you for your letter regarding the model which will be used for providing students with calculated grades for GCSE, AS and A level qualifications this summer. We appreciate you responding to our recent consultation and writing to us to share information about the centres in your network.
As you know, we ran a public consultation from 15 April to 29 April to seek views on aspects of our proposed assessment arrangements for GCSEs, AS and A levels. We received over 12,500 responses to our consultation, and on 22 May we published our decisions.
In our consultation, we invited views as to the relative weight that the model should place on historical evidence of centre performance (given the prior attainment of students) versus the submitted centre assessment grades. We proposed that using an approach which emphasises historical evidence of centre performance (given the prior attainment of students) is likely to be fairest for all students. The majority of consultation respondents agreed with us or were neutral towards this proposal.
A key aim of our standardisation process, amongst others, is to protect, so far as is possible, all students from being systematically advantaged or disadvantaged, notwithstanding their socio-economic background or whether they have a protected characteristic.
Therefore, we are trialling a number of different approaches to standardisation using results from 2019. We will use the approach that will give the most accurate calculated grades but we are also looking at the impact of these choices on different kinds of centre, including free schools, as we would not want to choose an approach that was the most accurate on average but may disproportionately impact a particular kind of school.
As for the issue of new schools with no historical data, again we are testing which is the approach most likely to produce accurate calculated grades using 2019 data. Approaches being considered include using information about the type of school (including free school) in the moderation process as this may prove more accurate because, as you have highlighted, some schools tend to have better outcomes than others.
We have set up an External Advisory Group, who have commented on the statistical approaches being trialled and on the measures of accuracy against which they are being tested to ensure that such approaches are as accurate as possible.
We recognise the concerns you raise and are researching the best way to moderate centre assessment grades in these circumstances.
As part of our consultation we carried out an Equalities Impact Assessment. We have taken on board the feedback received regarding the potential impact of the standardisation process on disadvantaged students, and we are evaluating the impact of choice of statistical standardisation model on centres with varying levels of students with a range of background and protected characteristics.
However, we know that some centres might believe that their students in 2020 would have performed better, had exams taken place, than their 2018 and 2019 cohorts, even when prior attainment was taken into account. We also recognise the potential for such centres to feel dissatisfied if results this year were constrained by the performance of their students in recent years. The autumn series will be an important opportunity for students who believe they have received a lower calculated grade than they would have achieved had they been able to sit the summer exams to show what they can do.
We are currently considering arrangements for an additional exam series in the autumn, in accordance with government policy. This will be open to students who had entered to take exams this summer. As highlighted, the autumn series will be an important opportunity for students who believe they have received a lower calculated grade than they would have achieved had they been able to sit the summer exams to show what they can do. We are now consulting on details of the autumn exam series – we hope anyone with views about how the series might run will respond to our consultation which will run until 8 June.
We appreciate your concern for fairness for students and assure you that this is a priority for us in finalising the arrangements for the awarding of grades this summer. We are working closely with the exam boards to ensure that the arrangements to be used this year are as effective as possible in delivering the fairest outcomes in such unprecedented circumstances.
If it would be helpful, we would be keen to arrange a meeting between yourselves and my colleagues who are developing the approach, to discuss this matter further with you.