GCSEs 2021: Teachers to mark exam board questions

EXCLUSIVE: Boards to be key in helping GCSE and A-level teachers to grade. Schools may be given pre-prepared tests or access to question banks
14th January 2021, 9:14pm
Catherine Lough


GCSEs 2021: Teachers to mark exam board questions

Teachers To Mark Exam Board Questions

This summer's GCSE and A-level grades are expected to involve teachers marking questions set by exam boards, Tes can reveal.

More details will emerge in a consultation due to be launched by the Department for Education and Ofqual tomorrow. 

Exactly how the external elements of the qualifications will work this summer is still subject to the result of the two-week consultation.

But multiple sources are clear about the likely end result - exam boards will help teachers assess students with preset questions and extra assessment training.

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In full: Gavin Williamson's exams letter to Ofqual

Each GCSE or A level would have questions supplied by exam boards - potentially ones they have already developed.

These could be accompanied by exam board mark schemes for teachers to use, which would help to standardise the process. 

Set tests or question banks?

A key issue yet to be decided is whether there would be set tests, where all candidates completed the same tasks, or whether teachers will be able to choose from a "question bank" so that students are only assessed on content they have covered. 

But the external assessment will be only one component of the materials used by teachers to decide grades. 

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: "The consultation will look at how far teachers agree that there should be something external.

"I don't know if these tests would be compulsory but that will form part of the questions asked, I think.

"Can you give a young person the top grade in maths if all the work they have been assessed on has been set by the teacher, and therefore might not be the standard equivalent for national expectations?"

Education secretary Gavin Williamson has already said he wants grading to be completed as late in the school year as possible to give students more time to study.  

Light-touch exam board checks on grading 

There will be exam board checks on the teacher assessment, it is understood, but nothing approaching full moderation.

The checks could involve boards looking for anomalies in schools' overall grading patterns.

But the expectation is that only a minority would require further investigation. And even then, the result could be that teachers are asked to try again rather than external changes to the grades being imposed.

Moderation could also occur at departmental level within schools.

Other unresolved questions include:

  • If teachers will be required to set external tests, or whether schools can opt out of this. Tes understands this may remain optional, at least notionally, to give teachers more flexibility over how they assess students.
  • Whether these tasks will be sat under exam conditions. 
  • Whether they could be sat at home for students who are self-isolating. Tes understands it is more likely that students would be given several opportunities to complete the task at school, but that online invigilation of students sitting tasks is a possibility. 
  • How significant the marks for these tasks will be for a student's final grade. School leaders have advised exams regulator Ofqual that there should be a "quota" to determine how much of a student's mark in an external task would contribute to their final grade

More GCSE and A-level grade inflation expected

Sources acknowledge that this year's process is likely to mean even more grade inflation.

Education secretary Gavin Williamson is already committed to grades being as generous as in 2020, when a U-turn saw moderation abandoned and grade increases breaking all records.

Mr Barton said he had advised Ofqual to use "quotas" to determine how much of the external test should go towards a student's final grade.

"I would think they will look at whether there should be some form of quota in terms of how much content they need to cover in that test and then how much that should contribute to their grade," he said.  

"ASCL have said there needs to be some form of quota included in the grading.

"The expert group [supposed to be set up to look at ameliorating differing levels of Covid disruption for exam candidates] could look at this and decide which components of a subject such as history need to be demonstrated.

"They could determine the pillars of a subject that could be included in external assessment. And they could also look at the required amount you would need to cover in externally set tests."

The whole process is likely to mean a large and quick change of focus for the exam boards, which will have to work out the mechanics of the assessment with Ofqual and train teachers in it.

Should exam conditions matter?

There are also outstanding issues for the format of any external tests.  

Mr Barton said: "They need to think whether it will be done in exam conditions - and does it matter if you haven't done so?" 

He added that if students were self-isolating and could not sit these tests in school in the summer, boards would look at how to use special consideration to run back-up assessments for them to be sat at a later point. 

He said that he favoured an approach that used "optionality", where teachers could select tasks from a question bank, as opposed to all students sitting the same tasks.

"We've said they should use a bank of questions for these external tests," he said.

"If this will be curated by teachers taking externally set questions and tasks, that's incredibly hard for examiners to mark.

"Previously, Ofqual has been dismissive of optionality but we're in different territory now. You can only be fair to young people if you assess them on what they have covered, not on what they haven't."


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