Assessment: 'Disadvantaged students will lose out'

UCU says research shows that high-achieving, disadvantaged students are more likely to have under-predicted grades

Kate Parker

Disadvantaged students will be the biggest losers in the new exams system

Disadvantaged students could be the big losers under new assessment plans following the cancellation of exams this summer, the University and College Union (UCU) has warned.

This morning, Ofqual published details on how GCSE, AS and A-level grades will be awarded this summer. 

By 29 May, colleges will have to submit two pieces of information – the first being the grade students "would be most likely to have achieved if they had sat their exams and completed any non-exam assessment".

Ofqual says that judgement should balance different sources of evidence such as classwork, book work, non-exam assessment, participation in performances, mock-exam results and previous exam results.

Colleges will then also need to submit a rank order of students at their institution by performance for each grade, which will be used to "standardise judgements".


Need to know: Teachers to rank order pupils for GCSEs

More: Grades plan imperfect but fair say leaders

News: Let's clap for school and college staff


UCU said that research shows high-achieving, disadvantaged students are more likely to have their grades under-predicted than their wealthier peers.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: "These are difficult and unprecedented times and we welcome the speed with which these plans have been pulled together. We need to have similar proposals for vocational qualifications and time to properly respond.

"Our primary concern is that disadvantaged students are the ones most likely to miss out. Research shows that they fare badly when it comes to predicted grades and they are less likely to be able to put life on hold and delay sitting exams, or have access to the tools required to navigate any appeals system.

"The context in which qualifications are achieved needs to be considered by colleges and universities; not all achievements are equal and they should not be seen as such. Colleges and universities will need to make greater use of contextual data so that students progress according to their achievements and, crucially, their potential."

Association of Colleges chief executive David Hughes said that the transition of the assessment system "is a sensible and pragmatic approach that places high trust in teachers, schools and colleges".

He added: "Colleges will implement this process rigorously and professionally in order to generate accurate and fair outcomes. It is vital that students understand fully how the process will be run and are confident that the process will be fair and robust. We want to ensure that no student is disadvantaged.

"As well as GCSEs and A levels, hundreds of thousands of students were due to take vocational and technical qualifications and functional skills this summer. Every one of those students needs reassurance that their studies will result in the qualifications they have worked so hard for, so we are working hard with Ofqual, DfE and awarding organisations to agree a way forward and look forward to guidance being issued shortly.

"In any grading system which relies in part on teacher guidance, we know that there is potential for some groups of students to do less well than others. Ofqual’s equalities impact assessment needs to take into account the research evidence on this, such as the findings that there is systemic under-prediction for black and minority and disadvantaged candidates in university admissions. We will work with others to correct for this so that no student faces additional disadvantage.”

Register to continue reading for free

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you

headshot KP

Kate Parker

Kate Parker is a FE reporter.

Find me on Twitter @KateeParker

Latest stories