Relax GCSE grade boundaries this year, say teachers

MPs and equality campaigners ask whether this year's grading process will be reviewed to ensure BAME pupils are not disadvantaged

Catherine Lough

exam hall

Teachers' leaders have called on exam boards to relax grade boundaries for this year's GCSE and A-levels to ensure that pupils are not unfairly disadvantaged by the process.

Speaking at the Commons Education Select Committee on cancelled exams and the calculated grading process, Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the NEU teaching union, said Ofqual should relax boundaries this year so that more pupils achieved higher grades.


News: Ofqual considers appeals helpline for GCSE grades

GCSEs: Open-book exams and reduced content for 2021?

Exams and Ofsted: Ofsted ratings account for under 1% variance in GCSEs


"I think this year, and this will be controversial, that Ofqual needs to relax the grade boundaries – there need to be more children getting the higher grades," he said.

"Where there is doubt, somebody should move up a grade mark rather than moving down a grade. That will mean exams are regarded as not having the same rigour as the previous exam series, but I don't see how else we're going to get through this."

MPs and equality charities also raised concerns over how the process of using teacher-assessed grades this summer would disproportionately impact black, Asian and minority-ethnic (BAME) pupils because of bias. 

Kim Johnson, a committee member and Labour MP for Liverpool, said that "Covid-19 and Black Lives Matter has highlighted the inherent inequalities that exist in terms of race and poverty" and asked the panel: "What further research might be needed after results day to determine whether these groups have been impacted and unfairly marked down by the process?"

And Zubaida Haque, interim director of racial equality think tank the Runnymede Trust, said that the Department for Education had not responded to three letters from the trust calling for the government to ensure that BAME pupils were not disadvantaged.

She said that "the onus shouldn't be on students to prove that they've been given the wrong grades", and that there needed to be an equality impact assessment of how teacher-assessed grades had worked this summer and whether these had disadvantaged particular groups.

To say pupils could resit if they feel their grade did not reflect their ability when they have lost learning time and cannot afford tuition showed the system was not fit for purpose, she said.

Responding to Mr Courtney's comments regarding the relaxation of grade boundaries, Dr Haque said: "We had this conversation with Ofqual. And it was alarming for us that Ofqual were more concerned about over-compensating students in terms of grade predictions rather than what's currently going on, which is that particular groups of students are being under-predicted.

She said the trust had asked Ofqual, "Why is it that you're happy to have a system where particular groups of students are being under-predicted but you're not as happy if they're over-predicted?" 

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

author bio

Catherine Lough

Catherine Lough is a reporter at Tes.

Find me on Twitter @CathImogenLough

Latest stories

Here is how to ensure effective safeguarding mechanisms

Safeguarding: 5 golden principles for leaders

The need for colleges and schools to have effective safeguarding practices has never been more apparent. This lawyer has some advice on what to look out for
Sophie Kemp 11 May 2021