How Ofqual decided to keep quiet on grading algorithm

Regulator opted to consult exam boards on details of this summer's controversial grading process – but not the public

John Roberts

GCSE and A-level results 2020: Ofqual decided not to consult publicly on its final model for standardising grades, new papers show

Ofqual took the decision not to publicly consult over its algorithm for awarding grades in this summer’s exams, new papers reveal.

Minutes from the exams regulator show that it decided it should consult with exam boards over the final details of its standardisation process but not do so with the public.

At the same meeting in May, Ofqual’s board said that it needed to “consider the timing of publication on the details of the standardisation model”.

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The algorithm Ofqual used became hugely controversial during this summer’s exams grading, with widespread anger over the way students were downgraded from the grades given to them by their schools.

Newly published board minutes reveal that on 13 May it was decided: “That Ofqual should consult exam boards on the final details of the model, but that Ofqual should not consult publicly.”

GCSE and A-level results controversy

Board minutes also show discussions about whether the teacher-assessed grades submitted by schools could be kept confidential.

During a meeting in March, Ofqual’s board was told the regulator was “considering the risks” in advising teachers not to reveal centre-assessment grades or positions in the rank order to individual students or their parents.

They said this was “to alleviate undue pressure on teachers; the ability for students to identify other individuals especially where cohorts are small and managing expectations as grades could be changed by standardisation”.

The board agreed that teachers should be told that this was considered to be a confidential and judgemental exercise and asked if there were any rules of conduct that existed to ensure that the teachers did not give out any information.

However, in May the board was told that these grades could be obtained through subject access requests (SAR).

The minutes noted that "some schools, teachers and colleges had asked whether this information could be permanently protected from disclosure” but the Ofqual board was informed that this would require a change in legislation.

The minutes add: "The Information Commissioner’s Office had endorsed Ofqual’s view that the exemption for data generated through the writing of exams would extend to centre-assessment grades and to rank order information this year.

“This would allow for a time period of five months from submission of such a request, or 40 days following exam results being issued, whichever was the earliest, for any received SAR to be provided.”

The fallout from A level results calculated by Ofqual's algorithm led to a U-turn meaning students at both GCSE and A level were awarded whichever was higher, the teacher-assessed grade or the grade from the standardisation process carried out by the regulator.

Ofqual was also criticised before the exam results were published by the chair of Commons Education Select Committee, Robert Halfon, for not sharing the standardisation model that it had used. Writing for Tes in July, he said that Ofqual should not be afraid of scrutiny.



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John Roberts

John Roberts

John Roberts is North of England reporter for Tes

Find me on Twitter @JohnGRoberts

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