Ofqual has been accused of not trusting the teaching profession in a stinging letter from multi-academy chief executives demanding answers over its handling of GCSE and A-level grading.
The letter, signed by 24 academy trust chief executives and headteachers and sent to the interim chief regulator Simon Lebus today, calls on Ofqual to explain what contingency plans were in place in the event of this summer's exams being cancelled.
Exams 2021: Don’t let parents sway grades, teachers told
And it warns that students were "left in the dark for a whole term" – three months – after prime minister Boris Johnson's announcement in January that exams would not be going ahead as normal, until the regulator published guidance during the Easter holidays.
The MAT leaders are also strongly critical of the "onerous" quality assurance process introduced by Ofqual, which requires schools to submit evidence to support their grading decisions this year.
And their letter warns that trusts will only be paying itemised invoices from exam boards this year, so that school leaders know exactly what they are being asked to pay for.
GCSEs and A levels 2021: The evidence burden on schools
The regulator has said that schools and colleges will need to submit evidence of students' grades from "at least" one A-level subject for at least five students, as well as evidence from at least two GCSE subjects, looking at the work of at least five students each.
In a blog published last month, Ofqual said it would tell schools and colleges what work was needed from which students on 21 June, with schools given 48 hours to submit the requested evidence.
In today's letter, the MAT leaders write: "The onerous quality assurance processes that were recently announced via a blog (22 April 2021), are just the latest decision that conveys the strong impression that Ofqual and DfE officials do not trust school teachers and leaders."
It adds that exam boards already have the system intelligence to scrutinise new centres and centres that submit results that might appear anomalous.
It adds: "However, all centres will be required to submit a significant sample of evidence at 48 hours’ notice.
"If there is a real value in schools submitting reams of documents so they can sit there unread, then we urge Ofqual to explain it clearly.
"If you don’t, then we will look at the overwhelming weight of evidence of the last 14 months and reach the only conclusion we can reasonably draw – that you simply don’t trust our profession."
It also says that many school leaders "predicted the chaos of last summer well and made proposals for last summer and this year, but have been ignored".
The MAT leaders add: "While last summer’s cancellation [of exams] was unprecedented and unforeseen, the same cannot be said of this summer’s season.
"Please could you tell us what contingency planning took place between June 2020 and January 2021 for the possible cancellation of exams?
"And why, when exams were cancelled in January, it took three more months for students to be informed about how their grades would be awarded?"
Questions over exams in 2022
The leaders also raise questions about next year's exams.
The letter adds: "We wish to raise the urgent need for a detailed, credible, national plan for our current Year 10 and Year 12 students. These young people have been enormously disrupted by the pandemic, losing face-to-face learning for long periods over the last 14 months. It is our profound hope that examinations can take place next summer, but it is apparent to absolutely everybody, that significant work needs to be done on how these exams will look.
"Consideration must be given to how exam boards will ensure that the examinations are fair and that the different levels of disruption to learning that have taken place across schools and within schools are taken into account."
An Ofqual spokesperson said: "The arrangements for summer 2021 place trust in the professionalism of teachers. The arrangements recognise that teachers are best placed to assess what students have learned amid disruption in unprecedented times.
"They were put in place following a public consultation with more than 100,000 responses, many from teachers and students. We published information on 25 February on how grades will be determined this year, following receipt of a direction from the Secretary of State on 23 February.
"The arrangements offer the fairest way forward and it is important that students, parents and the wider public have confidence in these processes. They are deliberately flexible to recognise the different experiences students have had this year, with checks and balances built in so that everyone can be confident that grades are evidence-based."
"We published further information on how these checks and balances would work on April 27 confirmed details of how data and evidence of a student’s grades will be submitted in this summer’s awarding.
"Once the grades are received by exam boards, every centre will be asked to provide samples of student work as part of quality assurance arrangements, as described in our in April, Quality assurance for GCSE, AS and A level: information for schools and colleges."
"Centres should retain the student work on which the grades were based and records of marking or grading judgements as exam boards will request samples after 18 June. It will also be needed if a student wishes to appeal their result.
"It will also reduce the need for exam boards to contact centres after the end of term when teachers should be taking a much-needed rest. We are very conscious of teacher workload. The sample is relatively small and should not take too long for exams officers to submit. Further work will be requested if an exam board is concerned that the evidence does not support the grades."
The letter has been signed by the following school leaders.
Debbie Clinton – CEO, Academy Transformation Trust
Jonny Uttley – CEO, The Education Alliance
Wayne Norrie – CEO, Greenwood Academies Trust
Cathy Anwar – CEO, Summit Learning Trust
Sian Hampton – CEO, Archway Learning Trust
Jon Chaloner – CEO, GLF Schools
Tim Coulson – CEO, Unity Schools Partnership
Bev Matthews – CEO, Minerva Learning Trust
Gail Brown – CEO, Ebor Academy Trust
Stephen Chamberlain – CEO, Active Learning Trust
Helen Rowland – CEO, Focus Trust
Ian McNeilly – CEO, The de Ferrers Trust
Carol Dewhurst – CEO, Bradford Diocesan Academies Trust
Gavin Booth – CEO, Infinity Academies Trust
Karen Roberts – CEO, The Kemnal Academies Trust
Will Teece – Principal, Brookdale Groby Learning Campus
Carl Smith – Principal, Casterton College
Tom Banham – CEO, Hoyland Common Academy Trust
Matt Nicolle – Principal, Redmore Academy
Simon Jones – CEO, Fairfax Multi-Academy Trust
Claire Cuthbert – CEO, The Evolve Trust
Sam Strickland – Principal, The Duston School
Wesley Davies – CEO, Two Counties Trust
Dan Morrow – CEO, Dartmoor Multi-Academy Trust