'Ofqual's A-level plans could dash my university hopes'

Ofqual’s grading process puts huge importance on a school's historical performance – this is unfair, writes one student

Graham Booker

Coronavirus: Ofqual's A-level grading process could ruin my shot at university, writes one student

Ofqual has announced that its standardisation process for this year's teacher assessment-based grades will place more weight on a centre’s historical performance than the submitted grade. 

As a student who would have been sitting their A-level exams this summer, I'm worried. 

I fear that this approach – combined with the absence of an appeals system – will disadvantage talented pupils attending historically low-performing schools.

The A-level results at my school have been disappointing for many years. I currently hold an offer to study medicine at King’s College London, but I'm worried now that I will lose it.

Coronavirus: An unfair approach to A-level grades

I have started a petition as part of a wider campaign for a fairer approach. There are many other students who share my concerns, which Ofqual has recognised in its consultation analysisIn response, it has highlighted the importance of the autumn exam series.

However, there are several problems that make this offering unacceptable.

Firstly, education secretary Gavin Williamson has discussed his plans to consult with Ofqual regarding the delay of the summer 2021 exams.

If the government considers current Year 10 and 12 pupils disadvantaged by the disparities in online teaching provisions between state and private schools, this must also apply to Year 11 and 13 students. 

It's also important to highlight that private schools quickly moved to online teaching (presumably to prevent them being inundated with requests for refunds).

In many state schools, Year 11 and 13 pupils have had no online teaching since March. How can Ofqual expect these students to sit these exams and perform as they would have in normal circumstances? 

Some schools had not completed the subject syllabuses prior to closure and have not issued guidance regarding what is missing. Students cannot revise information they have never been taught or supplied with. 

Mental health concerns

Many universities require students sitting the autumn exams to reapply in competition with other 2021 applicants. Not only could this exacerbate inequalities in the 2020 intake into HE but also losing hard-earned offers may have profound impacts on mental health. 

I have recently been in contact with someone who has an offer to study at the University of Oxford and has been hospitalised due to extreme anxiety regarding calculated grades.

No student or parent should have to experience this. 

I urge the government to recognise the impact that this whole situation is having on young people’s mental health during these already challenging times.

The ability of schools to provide teaching before the autumn exams is also a concern. If large numbers of Year 13s are forced to sit these exams, how will schools be able to safely uphold socially distanced teaching?

The variability of capacity for individual schools means that some schools will be able to offer teaching, whereas others will not.

Racial bias

Concerns have been raised about black and minority ethnic students being disadvantaged by the subconscious bias of their teachers.

If this is present in the submitted centre assessment grades, it’s likely that these students have been ranked lower than their peers. 

I fear that disadvantaged and BAME students will be disproportionately forced into sitting the autumn exams – being held behind in their educational progression as a result. 

Ofqual cannot assume the judgement of a teacher at a historically low-performing school to be any less accurate than that of a teacher at a high-performing one. 

Hence, a process that places more weight on historical results of a centre will be inherently unfair.

The other issue lies with the absence of an appeals system. It is wrong that students will feel helpless as they cannot appeal against a system that has clearly disadvantaged them. 

While I recognise that standardisation is important in ensuring consistency and statistically realistic outcomes, Ofqual’s approach requires careful consideration and reform. 

I encourage all students, parents and teachers to submit evidence to an inquiry that evaluates the impact of Covid-19 on education and children’s services.

Graham Booker is a Year 13 student attending a historically low-performing school

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Graham Booker

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