Few schools and colleges will rely solely on exam results to set grades

Few schools and colleges are to rely solely on internal exam results to set A-level and GCSE grades this year, although most schools in England say exams will remain the most important factor in assessing their pupils’ results this summer.

A snap poll of state and independent secondary schools by the Association of School and College Leaders found that just 7% said they would rely entirely on tests “sat in exam-style conditions” to assess final grades, despite fears among parents and families that many schools would try to replicate the traditional exam season.

Formal exams to award grades for A-levels and GCSEs were scrapped by the government in England at the start of this year during the winter lockdown, with teacher-based assessments to be used to award grades instead for more than a million students.

Ofqual and the Department for Education have given schools and colleges wide latitude and broad guidelines in how they make assessments, with the examination boards producing banks of optional exam questions to use for internal tests.

The ASCL survey of more than 500 head teachers and college principals found that 53% said that they would award grades based on a combination of tests and non-exam evidence but with “greater weighting” given to the exam-style papers, while 26% said they would give roughly equal weight to tests and other areas of study.

Geoff Barton, the ASCL’s general secretary, said: “We understand that the public may be confused by the fact that, on one hand, the government cancelled public exams, and on the other hand, many schools will be using exam-style questions and papers to assess students.

“However, there are sound reasons for this approach and it is important to understand that schools will be formulating these assessments in line with their knowledge of the content their students have been able to cover during the pandemic.

“A big challenge is obviously going to be ensuring that standards are consistent nationally across all these different approaches. Schools and colleges will be assessing evidence against common grade descriptors, and there will be internal and external quality assurance processes. Everything possible is being done to ensure that grades are fair and consistent.”

Just 6% of schools and colleges said their grades would be based only on “non-exam evidence,” while a further 6% said that while they would use both in making their assessments, they would give greater weight to a pupil’s performance outside exams.

Those basing grades entirely on exam results said the disruption caused by lockdowns and isolation made it hard to identify other evidence to use, as well as assurance that the entire class was being assessed on the same basis. Those rejecting the use of exams said the disruption affected pupils differently, so that teacher assessment was the only fair method.

Teachers will be expected to draw on a range of evidence when determining pupils’ grades, including coursework and the questions provided by exam boards. The tests are not required to be taken in exam conditions, and schools have full flexibility in choosing how and where students take them.

Barton said he wasn’t surprised about the “variability in approaches” given there were few parameters for school and college leaders to be guided by.

“But it is important that parents, politicians and the commentariat understand that there is no one-size-fits-all model out there, and nobody thinks that any of this is ideal,” Barton said.

A spokesperson for the exam regulator Ofqual said: “Teachers and school leaders have discretion to decide how to arrive at their judgments of a student’s performance, based on what they have been taught. The arrangements in place give teachers flexibility on how and when to assess their students, and the materials they use to do so.”


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