GCSEs 2021: ‘Wild West chaos' among 5 grading fears

Influential committee of MPs writes to Gavin Williamson outlining major concerns about this year's GCSEs and A levels

Catherine Lough

GCSEs and A levels 2021: MPs fear 'Wild West' grades

An influential group of MPs is warning the government of "chaos" and "Wild West" grading for this summer's A levels and GCSEs.

In a letter to education secretary Gavin Williamson, Robert Halfon, chair of the Commons Education Select Committee, writes: "We have a real fear that the package of measures being proposed, as it stands, risks much higher grade inflation happening this summer, possibly well beyond what was seen last August.

"This would, of course, have absolutely no benefit or value to anyone, and especially not to students in the long term. It would also create chaos for the thousands of students chasing college and further and higher education places come August."

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The letter is a detailed critique of the arrangements made following the cancellation of this summer's GCSE and A-level exams, which will result in teachers awarding grades.

It comes on the morning that the largest teaching union claimed that the government had been "entirely unethical" over GCSEs and A levels and was "hiding behind" teachers, who would be "lambasted" over grade inflation.

GCSEs and A levels 2021: Fears of grade inflation

Mr Halfon said he was concerned about grade inflation this summer. “The proposed replacement measures for exams this summer risk being too inconsistent across schools and colleges and beg the question whether there will be a level playing field for pupils and public confidence in assessments," he added.

"There are concerns that there will be a Wild West in grading and ever-increasing grade inflation. Of course, there are no easy answers, given what has happened with Covid. However, the DfE and Ofqual should consider some kind of standardised assessment and a more robust way of validating teacher-assessed grades.”

The committee summarises its five key concerns about this year's A levels and GCSEs as follows: 

1. Grade inflation

The package of measures risks much higher grade inflation this summer, even beyond what was seen last August. This could create difficulties for the thousands of students chasing college and further and higher education places. The government should set out what it is doing to ensure that employers do not penalise these cohorts in the job market, and publish a route map of its plan to revert back to “normal” grading standards.

2. Lack of standardisation of assessments

Without standardised assessments and with a lack of external assessors to provide the checks and balances to guarantee fairness, there is every possibility of inconsistent approaches to grading, potentially creating a “Wild West” of grades this summer.

3. Sampling of teacher assessments

It is concerned that Ofqual did not appear to have a clear measure of the amount of sampling of teacher-assessed grades that should take place to shore up public confidence. The DfE must clarify this as soon as possible, it said.

4. Fees being charged to schools and colleges

If external markers are not to be used and the boards are not doing extensive external checks, then the DfE must indicate what fee reductions should be offered to schools and colleges by exam boards.

5. Impact on disadvantaged groups

The alternative arrangements could have a detrimental impact on disadvantaged groups. Allowing students advanced sight of "exam" questions on which teachers will base their grades could allow students who are better supported at home to prepare their answers and perform better. Ofqual and the awarding bodies must also ensure that this summer’s measures guard against any conscious or unconscious bias in assessments, said the committee.  

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author bio

Catherine Lough

Catherine Lough is a reporter at Tes.

Find me on Twitter @CathImogenLough

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