GCSEs 2021: MPs Fear Wild West Grading Fiasco

GCSEs 2021: MPs Fear Wild West Grading Fiasco

Following the cancellation of the 2021 GCSE exams, teachers are responsible for deciding final grades. MPs warn about the risk of inconsistent, “Wild West” grading that puts poorer pupils at an unfair disadvantage.

Wild West Grading

Schools have been instructed to decide final GCSE grades based on coursework, essays and optional assessments. They have the option to use questions set by exam boards which could reduce potential bias, but that also remains questionable. Teachers are being given the flexibility to form judgments in the best way they see fit. But will it be fair?

Members of the Education Committee have aired their grievances to the DfE, warning there could be “Wild West in grading” this summer. Robert Halfon, the Tory MP who chairs the committee, has written a letter to the Education Secretary concerning the grading arrangements. He raises fears over the potential risk of inconsistency and grade inflation amongst schools.

The Department of Education has said that schools will be given guidance to ensure their assessment process is “fair”. They claim that exam boards will run checks on schools using a representative sample, and more targeted checks using risk-based criteria. Halfon’s letter raises concern that Ofqual, England’s exam regulator, did not clearly outline the amount of teacher assessed grades they would be sampling. He urges the DfE to clarify this as soon as possible as the confidence of educators and the public is wavering.

Robert Halfon questions whether “there will be a level playing field for pupils” and highlights that “without standardised assessments and with a lack of external, impartial assessors to provide the checks and balances to guarantee fairness, there is every possibility of a Wild West playing out with grades this summer”. He believes that “the DfE and Ofqual should consider some kind of standardised assessment and a more robust way of validating teacher assessed grades.”

Ofqual’s controversial 2020 grading algorithm penalised poorer pupils and inflated the grades of more privileged pupils. How can we ensure that history won’t repeat itself with teacher assessed grades?

Firm but Fair

A DfE spokepserson said “fairness” is of paramount importance in this year’s plans. They added that “schools, colleges and exam boards will undertake internal and external checks on the consistency of teachers’ judgments, to help maximise fairness for all pupils no matter their background or where they live”. 

The impact of Covid-19 has meant that some pupils and teachers have missed more school than others. Many topics have not been covered in depth – if at all. The plan is that pupils will only be assessed on what they have been taught but how can we adequately judge all pupils at the same standard?

There are concerns about allowing pupils to view the assessment questions teachers will base their grades on. Pupils who are better supported at home will be able to prepare their answers and achieve better grades. Sadly, many young people lack appropriate parental guidance, access to the internet and a generally supportive home environment that’s conducive for learning. Ofqual claims it would not be possible to prevent questions from being leaked which could give some pupils an “unfair advantage”.

The Minister of State for Schools, Nick Gibb said the government has created “the best system possible to ensure there is consistency and fairness in how teachers submit grades for their students”.

The possibility of grade inflation and inconsistency is a glaring dilemma that could cause “chaos” for higher education institutions and the pupils themselves. This will create inconsistencies across schools and across the country. Some pupils will benefit while others will be treated unjustly. Final grades have a massive impact on the academic and career trajectory of all pupils. As educators, we want to give all our pupils an equal opportunity to achieve. As frustrating as it is, all we can do is patiently await clear, concrete guidance on how teacher assessed grades will be fairly decided.

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