GCSEs 2021: Grades will be less reliable, Ofqual warns

Ofqual's new chief regulator tells education secretary Gavin Williamson that grades will be less valid without exams

John Roberts

GCSEs and A levels 2021: Simon Lebus, Ofqual's chief regulator, has written to education secretary Gavin Williamson about the reliability of this year's grades

Ofqual's chief regulator has warned education secretary Gavin Williamson that GCSEs and A levels will be less reliable and valid as a result of exams not going ahead.

Simon Lebus' warning comes in an exchange of letters published this morning discussing how qualifications will be awarded this year following the government's major announcement last week that exams would not be happening as normal amid the escalating Covid crisis. 


Gavin Williamson: Teacher grades may use external papers

In full: Gavin Williamson's exams letter to Ofqual

GCSEs 2021: In full – Ofqual’s letter on summer grades

No algorithm: Teacher judgements won't be second-guessed 


Mr Williamson has written to Ofqual to say that teacher assessed grades can draw on external exam papers or tasks.

In his reply, Mr Lebus says: "Your statement to the House of Commons and your letter to us confirm government policy that in some qualifications, including for GCSE, AS and A levels, results should this year be determined by teachers assessing the performance of their students.

GCSEs and A levels 2021: Externally set short papers

"Inevitably, this approach has implications. Without exams, we will not achieve the same degree of reliability and validity as in normal years."

Mr Lebus adds that shorter external assessments would help teachers to assess students more accurately.

"In particular, we will want the consultation to consider the role of externally set short papers," he said.

"We know that the more the evidence comes from students’ performance in externally set papers, the fairer and more consistent teachers’ assessments are likely to be, because all students are given the chance to show what they can do in the same way.

"Appeal arrangements are also likely to be more straightforward. Of course, such an approach will mean teachers have less flexibility in terms of the evidence they could use.

"The consultation will carefully consider the issues related to this and, given the advantages of students taking consistent papers, whether teachers should be required to use them."

In his letter to Ofqual, Mr Williamson said he "would like to explore the possibility of providing externally set tasks or papers, in order that teachers can draw on this resource to support their assessments of students".

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John Roberts

John Roberts

John Roberts is North of England reporter for Tes

Find me on Twitter @JohnGRoberts

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