DfE's state vs private schools A-level grade gap fears

Exclusive: Concern in government over wider attainment gap between state and private schools led to pre-results day briefing being considered

Catherine Lough

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There are concerns that next week's exam results will reveal a wider gap between state and private school pupils at A level, Tes understands.

Sources close to the Department for Education suggest it is concerned there will be higher inflation at A level across the board than that seen in 2020, with slightly lower levels of grade inflation seen at GCSE.

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And they have raised worries about a wider attainment gap between A-level candidates at state schools and their privately educated peers this year.

It is understood that publication of a pre-release media briefing prior to results publication to clarify possible disparities between state and private school by exams regulator Ofqual was under consideration.

However the regulator has denied it has any plans outside of its usual planned results day communications.

Factors such as parental pressure to raise grades, the higher stakes at the highest A-level grades – where competition is fiercer for Russell Group university places – and the fact that private schools tend to predict pupils' grades more generously, have all been flagged as factors that could produce a wider attainment gap by school type than that seen in 2020 or in previous years.

There have already been reports of mounting pressure from parents on schools, especially within the independent sector, to adjust pupils' teacher-assessed grades upwards. 

In a Tes survey, responded to by more than 2,800 grading teachers, one in four reported that parents had put pressure on them to raise students' grades, or to change the evidence going towards their teacher-assessed GCSE and A-level grades.

Of the 480 private school teachers who responded, one in three - 34 per cent - said they had been under pressure to raise grades.

And it was recently reported that private schools are writing to universities to lobby them for places where pupils' performance is too weak to qualify prior to results release.

A spokesperson for Ofqual said: "We will not be commenting on grade outcomes until they are published. 

“We are not holding a specialist or unplanned briefing based on results data.

"Media briefings for results this year will be based on a similar format to previous years and arrangements will be confirmed shortly.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We do not comment on speculation. It would be unfair on students who have worked so hard and will be expecting their results next week."

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author bio

Catherine Lough

Catherine Lough is a reporter at Tes.

Find me on Twitter @CathImogenLough

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