The Sutton Trust has responded to Ofqual’s consultation on GCSE and A level grading proposals for 2020. The Trust’s response was covered in the TES and can be found below.

Do you have any comments about our proposals for the statistical standardisation of centre assessment grades?

The Sutton Trust champions social mobility through programmes, research and policy influence. We particularly welcome Ofqual’s aims of a) protecting students from being systematically advantaged or disadvantaged, notwithstanding their socio-economic background or whether they have a protected characteristic, and b) providing students with the grades they would most likely have achieved had they been able to complete their assessments in summer 2020. However, we are concerned that the current proposals may not sufficiently meet these objectives. We are in broad agreement on this issue with the responses submitted to this consultation by Impetus and the Social Mobility Commission. There are two key issues set out below which the Sutton Trust believes must be considered if Ofqual is to meet these important aims.

  1. It is positive that steps are being taken to avoid disadvantaging schools with low prior attainment but high levels of value added, by taking into account both their previous A level exam results as well as the prior attainment of their cohort of students. However, particularly at GCSE level, there remain questions about ‘turnaround’ schools who have improved rapidly not being disadvantaged by pegging results to previous years. Some consideration of trajectory, while taking into account natural statistical variation, seems necessary to avoid disadvantaging some schools. There is substantial government focus on turning around the fortunes of struggling schools, so any statistical considerations that can be made to avoid them losing out would be helpful.
  2. The other outstanding issue relates to the attainment gap between advantaged and disadvantaged pupils. Despite the adjustment process, the system is nonetheless still fundamentally based on teacher assessment, which potentially has structural biases. It is critical that socioeconomic attainment gaps are monitored throughout the stages of the adjustment process, so it’s important that Ofqual have access to data on the free school meal/pupil premium eligibility of pupils. If systematic bias is evident, statistical adjustments should be considered, which may include changes to centre rankings. Ofqual should be prepared to take such steps if required. If gaps were to widen significantly, this would have significant knock on consequences for social mobility, as well as the credibility of this year’s grades.

Do you have any comments about our proposals for appealing results?

The standard appeals process for exams can be difficult to navigate and there is a cost to any appeal. If these barriers are not removed, particularly at a time of upheaval such as this, they may prevent disadvantaged students from making an appeal and widen inequalities within the system between students. Students from poorer homes may also be less likely to be in a position to resit exams. The overarching principle should be to ensure that there are no inequalities in access to such remedies.

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