A-level and GCSE students set to face tests along with teacher assessments this summer

Gavin Williamson calls on regulator to include externally-set papers as part of process for awarding grades

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Wednesday 13 January 2021 16:41
Comments
<p>Summer exams were cancelled in England earlier this month</p>

Summer exams were cancelled in England earlier this month

A-level, AS-level and GCSE students in England look set to be required to take externally-set tests as part of their assessment this summer, despite the cancellation of formal exams due to coronavirus.

The move suggests that education secretary Gavin Williamson is backing away from earlier indications that grades would be based on teacher assessment only.

In a letter to exams regulator Ofqual, Mr Williamson confirmed that there would be no repeat of the use of algorithms to determine grades, following the chaos last year when many students were awarded marks regarded as unfair.

Mr Williamson said he would like to see grades awarded on the basis of teachers’ assessments of pupils’ ability.

But he asked Ofqual to “explore the possibility of providing externally-set tasks or papers, in order that teachers can draw on this resource to support their assessments of students”.

Ofqual and the Department for Education are to work jointly on a two-week consultation on the system for awarding grades, with final plans expected in early February.

In his letter, Mr Williamson said: “A breadth of evidence should inform teachers’ judgments, and the provision of training and guidance will support teachers to reach their assessment of a student’s deserved grade. This should be drawn out in the consultation.

“In addition, I would like to explore the possibility of providing externally-set tasks or papers, in order that teachers can draw on this resource to support their assessments of students.

“We should seek views in the consultation on what broader evidence should determine a teacher’s assessment of a student’s grade and whether we should require or recommend the use of the externally set tasks or papers.

Mr Williamson is under massive pressure to avoid a repeat of the 2020 results, when thousands of A-level students had their marks downgraded from school estimates by a controversial algorithm, before Ofqual announced a U-turn allowing them to use teachers’ predictions.

In a letter to Ofqual, Mr Williamson said: “We have agreed that we will not use an algorithm to set or automatically standardise anyone’s grade.

Schools and colleges should undertake quality assurance of their teachers’ assessments and provide reassurance to the exam boards. We should provide training and guidance to support that, and there should also be external checks in place to support fairness and consistency between different institutions and to avoid schools and colleges proposing anomalous grades.”

But he added: “Changes should only be made if those grades cannot be justified, rather than as a result of marginal differences of opinion.

“Any changes should be based on human decisions, not by an automatic process or algorithm.”

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