A headteachers’ union has called for a return to 2019’s distribution of grades in next summer’s GCSE and A-level results, if exams go ahead in 2022.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), has said that the higher grades seen in the past two years, after exams were cancelled, were the result of “extreme circumstances” and cannot be compared to previous years.
He said it would be “difficult to justify” maintaining this spread of grades if exams do return in the summer and warned against higher grades being “baked in”.
Mr Barton said: “We have decided to recommend a return to the grading distribution of 2019 in the exams due to be held next summer.
"This has been approved by ASCL Council, our policymaking body, consisting of serving school and college leaders.
‘No easy answer’
“We thought long and hard about this issue because there is no easy answer to the dilemma of what should be done after two years of grading turbulence.
"On balance, we felt that returning to the grade distribution of 2019 represented the fairest approach for past, present and future students.”
MPs were told today that final plans for how GCSE and A-level exams will be graded in 2022 will be revealed next month.
Tes has seen a document which shows that Ofqual has considered replicating the spread of grades seen this summer, last year or going back to 2019’s distribution in 2022.
These options were set out in a tender contract for researchers to run focus groups on public attitudes to grading distributions.
If Ofqual did attempt to return to 2019 results, it is expected that grade boundaries would need to be lower than they were that year, as the 2022 cohort have faced more than a year of Covid disruption to their education.
Ofqual is also set to announce what adaptations will be made to next year’s exams to take pupils’ learning loss into account.
Mr Barton said: “We’ve always said the system of teacher assessment used this year was bound to result in a different spread of grades because it was a different system than exams.
“By the same logic, it would be difficult to justify continuing with that distribution if exams do return, as expected, next summer.
“It would also ‘bake in’ higher grades with various problems around the resulting perception of the value of other grades and differentiation at the top end.
Warning against a ‘glide’ back to 2019 over a number of years
“If there was a ‘glide’ back over the course of a number of years to 2019 distribution, this would mean that in each of those years, the grading pattern would be set at arbitrary points, with resulting unfairness to successive cohorts of students and enormous confusion.
“We are conscious that our recommendation to return directly to the distribution of 2019 will raise concerns about fairness to the cohort of students taking their exams next summer, who have suffered extreme disruption to their education over the past 18 months because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“However, the question of fairness in exams taken next summer lies not in awarding higher grades than in 2019 but in putting in place appropriate adaptations to the papers themselves to mitigate for learning loss.
“The government is consulting on a mitigation system, which will give students advance notice of the topics that will be covered in the exam papers – although, frustratingly, it has still not actually confirmed those arrangements.”