Three ways to avoid a repeat of the exam grade fiasco

Gavin Williamson must reduce exam content in 2021 and produce a new national system for moderating grades, say teachers

John Roberts

The NEU have called for the government to take steps to avoid a repeat of the controversy surrounding this year's exams.

Teachers are calling for reduced exam content and a new national system for moderating grades to avoid a repeat of this year’s exam grade controversy.

Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney, the joint general secretaries of the National Education Union, have called on Gavin Williamson to make major changes ahead of next year’s exams.

In a letter to the education secretary, they warn that students who are due to sit A levels or GCSEs next summer will already have missed a term of education and could face further disruption between now and next summer if there are more spikes of Covid-19.


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The letter says: “One absolute priority emerging from this year’s exam awarding process which failed A-level students and their teachers is that it must never happen again.  

“Most urgently, robust systems must now be developed to ensure that the 2021 grade awarding process for GCSE and A level is reliable, valid and secure. We are concerned that the current arrangements do not meet these criteria.”

3 ways to avoid A-level and GCSE results mess in 2021

The letter makes three recommendations to the government:

  • Reduce the content assessed in GCSE and A-level exams next summer, across all subjects.
  • Work with teachers and school leaders to develop a “robust national system of moderated centre-assessed grades” in case there is further disruption to exams next summer because of a second spike in coronavirus or local lockdowns. 
  • Commission a thorough, independent review into assessment methods used to award GCSE and A levels in England, along the lines announced by the Scottish government.

The union leaders add: “The current over-reliance on end-of-course exams increases student anxiety and fails to give a fair reflection of what students can achieve.

“All options should be considered to ensure that young people are rewarded for their achievements, supported to fulfil their potential and not held back due to their background.”

A levels and GCSEs were due to be awarded through a process in which Ofqual took centre-assessed grades (which were predictions worked out by schools and colleges), a ranking of pupils in each school and the past performance of schools to arrive at a final grade.

However, this proved to be massively controversial following the publication of A-level results last week, resulting in a U-turn by Ofqual.

Now pupils are receiving whichever is higher – the centre-assessed grade or the moderated grade from Ofqual.

The DfE has been approached for a comment.

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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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