GCSEs 2021: Call to make teacher assessment more robust

Relying on a full timetable of exams and Sats next year is 'overly optimistic' and risky, the DfE is warned

Claudia Civinini

GCSEs and A levels 2021: Call to make teacher assessment more robust

The Department for Education has been urged to consider suitable arrangements for examinations and tests in 2021, including developing a nationwide system to strengthen internal school assessment.

In a letter signed by the Chartered College of Teaching, the Chartered Institute of Educational Assessors and Sir John Dunford, the former national Pupil Premium Champion, the DfE and Ofqual have been urged to take the lead to support a national approach to ensure that teacher assessment can confidently be used as a component of final grades.

The signatories argue that teacher assessment, like any other form of assessment, is subject to issues of validity and reliability, and it is imperative to minimise these issues to regain the trust of parents, students and the wider public after the 2020 debacle.


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The letter reads: "This is best achieved through a national approach supported by government and Ofqual.

"The central aim should be to strengthen internal centre assessment to the point at which it can form a valid and reliable component of final grades.

"This can be done through the urgent provision of a countrywide support programme to build greater consistency in the grading of centre-based assessments."

GCSEs: Delaying exams by a few weeks 'insufficient'

Using historical data to calculate grades has "introduced many cases of unfairness", the letter adds. It says that since school-assessed grades have been used in 2020, this would pose further challenges to using past performance data in 2021.

The organisations say that rescheduling the 2021 examination timetable is an "insufficient response", which will likely increase inequality.

"A delay of a few weeks will not address the underlying problems that some young people will have had more teaching than others, and access to IT and online resources is highly variable," the letter says.

"Therefore, grades in 2021 should be calculated on the basis of performance in a combination of external examinations and externally moderated centre-based assessments."

The letter urges the DfE and Ofqual to develop contingency measures for next year, pointing out that a reliance on full examinations and national curriculum timetable is "overly optimistic" and also risks creating more anxiety and stress for students, schools and universities.

It reads: "There is urgent need for contingency measures that will provide a level of security for schools and colleges and is demonstrably fair and equitable to all candidates.  

"Preparedness for all eventualities needs to be maximised and fairness must be the central aim."

Simon Sharp, chair of the Chartered Institute of Educational Assessors; Dame Alison Peacock, CEO of the Chartered College of Teaching; and Sir John offer five key recommendations in the letter:

  • Schools and colleges should be encouraged to nominate "lead assessors" to take responsibility for quality-assuring the standards of centre-based assessment. They should be supported with a remote programme covering key aspects of assessment such as setting and maintaining standards, moderation of teacher-assessed grades and addressing bias.
  • Exam boards and the Standards and Testing Agency should produce exemplification materials that can form a reference point for teacher-assessed grades, covering the full range of grades and expected standards of performance.
  • Further guidance should be provided as to the types of evidence that schools might use to support their teacher-assessed grades, such as classwork, designated assessments such as tests and practicals, and evidence produced during remote work. These should be judged against exemplification materials provided by the STA and awarding bodies.
  • The DfE should promote and support the use of technology to encourage collaborative approaches between schools as a means of benchmarking, challenge and moderation against expected standards of performance. The lead assessors’ role will be central in providing quality assurance of this process.
  • Where externally set examinations and tests are conducted in summer 2021, the data from these should be used as a comparator for centre-based assessments across the system.

A DfE spokesperson said: “We expect exams to take place next year and continue to work with Ofqual and the exam boards on our approach, recognising that students will have experienced considerable disruption to their education in the last academic year.

“There are a range of measures proposed by Ofqual following a public consultation, including a possible short delay to the exam timetable and subject-specific changes to reduce pressure on teaching time. We will continue to work with school and college stakeholders, Ofqual and the exam boards, to ensure that exams in 2021 are fair.”

An Ofqual spokesperson said: “Exams are important. Students, now in their second year of study for these qualifications, need a chance to show what they can do.

"We’re working with government and exam boards on the basis that exams run next summer with contingency arrangements in place, and welcome the thought and time the wider education sector is giving to plans for 2021.

"Students will have missed out on some teaching and learning – but we can take the truly exceptional circumstances of this academic year into account as we set standards.”

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Claudia Civinini

Claudia Civinini

Find me on Twitter @claudiacivinini

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