The Equality and Human Rights Commission has called on the government to guide schools through the process of awarding teacher-assessed grades and rankings in order to prevent "conscious or unconscious bias" towards black and minority-ethnic (BAME) students.
In a response to Ofqual's consultation on this summer's grading process, which closed yesterday, the EHRC said Ofqual's proposals for mitigating bias, as well as that for appeals, did not go far enough in ensuring some groups of students would not be disadvantaged.
Coronavirus: Williamson warned over grading 'injustice'
Exam cancellations: Some GCSEs could have no autumn exams
"Predicted grades could have a lasting effect on young people from certain minority-ethnic backgrounds and disabled pupils and those with special educational needs, who are already disproportionately disadvantaged," the response said.
Commenting on the exam regulator's proposals on the grading process, and the appeal process for students' grades, the watchdog said the information published for schools about predicted grades on 3 April "will not address the risk of unconscious or conscious bias by exam centres predicting grades for students".
Yesterday, education secretary Gavin Williamson emphasised that he hoped groups representing black and minority-ethnic students were using the consultation as an opportunity to "make their voice heard".
In the guidance published on 3 April, it said that headteachers should "emphasise the need for judgements to be objective and fair" when teachers were awarding predicted grades.
"However, our view is that this guidance in itself will not address the risk of unconscious or conscious bias by exam centres predicting grades for students. As such, we welcome Ofqual’s determination to ensure, as far as possible under the current circumstances, that the overall process for providing exam grades for students can identify and mitigate bias in the predicted grades provided by exam centres," EHRC said.
It said the government should issue guidance on "the approach which teachers should take to predicting grades and ranking pupils in order to minimise the risk of conscious or unconscious bias".
This should include a "requirement for schools to provide exam boards and Ofqual with sufficient data on socioeconomic background and the protected characteristics of assessed pupils, including by ethnic group, to support analysis to check for systematic advantages or disadvantages".
"Following this process, Ofqual should publish a report evaluating the predicted grades process and outcomes for pupils. If the evaluation reveals higher-than-average disparities for pupils with protected characteristics, these should be investigated thoroughly, with appropriate remedial action taken. This will be to support pupils who have been adversely impacted and also to inform future learning."
It added that pupils needed a "meaningful and timely route of appeal".
Chair of the Equality Human Rights Commission David Isaac said: “We know this is a difficult time for people working in education. It is also difficult for pupils. After years of hard work, control of their grades will be taken out of their hands.
"If we don’t get this right the future of some disadvantaged young people is severely at risk.
“We can’t let the crisis happening now affect the future of disadvantaged pupils when so many, particularly disabled pupils and those of ethnic-minority background, already face an uphill battle.
“Young people’s futures must remain at the heart of responses – we are ready to work with Ofqual to ensure young people can fulfil their potential and are not limited by any barriers put in their way during this time of crisis.
"At this time, it is critically important that public authorities meet the requirements of the Public Sector Equality Duty and consider the needs and disadvantages facing pupils with different protected characteristics when they are deciding and implementing their response to the coronavirus emergency.”