School leaders have hit back at an Ofqual warning that they should not "test, test and test" students in the final weeks before they submit GCSE and A-level grades in June.
Headteachers claim schools are being "ticked off" by Ofqual for following the regulator's "vague" grading advice.
And a headteachers' union leader has said that the guidance given to schools is so open-ended that it means teachers are making decisions about how to assess their students in a vacuum.
Last week, Ofqual chair Ian Bauckham told Tes that while schools lacking evidence for grades should use the additional time before grade submission to generate "evidence", "I’m not saying use all this time to do tests and tests and more tests".
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But school leaders have said that in running a series of formal exam-style assessments to arrive at grades, they are simply following the regulator's advice.
Writing in Tes, Vicky Bingham, headteacher of South Hampstead High School, in north-west London, said that while Mr Bauckham had "ticked off schools for using the six-week period until 18 June to assess students", schools had been told in the Joint Council for Qualifications' grading guidance that "later assessments were likely to be more reliable".
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She added that schools where students hold an AAA university offer but where current evidence only shows them at BBB must "generate opportunities for [students] to show them what you can do".
And she said that, as schools must assess students on what they can do now, not what they might have achieved, they need to generate evidence for students' grades.
"Quite how much evidence is required to achieve any particular grade is something even the examination boards do not entirely understand, but let us assume that it is more than a fleeting Kahoot! quiz last November," she added.
Other school leaders have criticised the "vagueness" of the Ofqual and JCQ guidance, with Philip Purvis, deputy head at Croydon High School in London, saying that "contradiction" in the guidance "allows...for very different approaches".
This is the key question of TAGs 2021. The problem though isn’t with those schools who take a more or less rigorous approach. The problem is with the contradiction and vagueness in the @Ofqual and @JCQ guidance which allows (necessarily?) for very different approaches. (Thread) https://t.co/avurfw0Gxn— Dr Philip Purvis (@CroydonHighDHA) May 9, 2021
In a Twitter thread on the grading process this year, Dr Purvis points out that the guidance "provides cover for those doing exam-style assessment, for those doing class-based or out-of-school assessments after teaching/revising specific topics and ... for those schools who insist on absolute consistency of evidence base within a subject and... for those schools who seek to replace weaker bits of evidence because it was not representative of a pupil’s usual performance".
"In short, the guidance is riddled with contradiction and vagueness (perhaps justifiably so given the uneven nature of the disruption). But schools are left to chart their own path through it all. That means the grades between schools will not be comparable," he said.
Does fortune really favour the brave here, then? Time will tell. The variance is not schools’ fault in any case. Each one of them is trying their very best in impossible circumstances. #exams2021 #TAGs #edutwitter— Dr Philip Purvis (@CroydonHighDHA) May 9, 2021
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “The problem is that the guidance gives a wide range of evidence that can be used to assess students but only very vague direction over how to balance different sources of evidence.
"All it says is that more recent evidence is likely to be more representative of student performance, that it should be consistent and relate closely to the specification requirements, and that centres should be confident that work produced is the student’s own work. In order to achieve these objectives, many schools and colleges have understandably decided to carry out exam-style assessments, but exactly how these are conducted and weighted in relation to other evidence is clearly going to differ between schools and colleges.
"The intention of the guidance is to provide flexibility over how students are assessed in light of the varying impact of the pandemic but it is so open-ended that it is not as helpful as it might be.
"What this illustrates is that schools and colleges have been put in an extraordinarily difficult position and are having to make decisions in something of a vacuum.”
Ofqual has been contacted for comment.