Thu 6 May 2021

A blog published on the Government’s exams regulator website has been criticised for loading schools with extra work, while betraying a lack of trust in teachers

Teachers have expressed anger after new guidance on grades assessments for GCSE and ‘A’ Level pupils was published in a blog stating that educational centres such as schools and colleges will be asked to provide “samples of student work” to exam boards for assessment “within 48 hours of the request being made”.

The post on the exam regulator Ofqual’s website explained that exam subject experts would review samples from a selection of centres as part of its quality assurance. 

School and colleges will be told by exam boards what work is needed from which students on 21 June – three days after submitting results. They would then have 48 hours to provide the evidence requested.

The blog, written by Cath Jadhav, has resulted in accusations that the Government is failing to trust teachers, while demanding that they provide samples of student work at short notice which may not even be read.

One department head tweeted how he felt “overwhelmed” at the news “and had a bit of a sob”. He wrote: “The advice keeps changing, parents are confused, teachers are exhausted and the Department for Education/Ofqual don’t care. I’m angry, partly because we *had a year to plan*.”

Jonny Uttley, chief executive officer of a multi-academy trust, called the blog a “kick in the teeth” via Twitter. A deputy head tweeted that Ofqual showed “disregard” for schools and staff. 

The headteachers’ union, the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), has called the demands that schools provide samples within 48 hours of being requested “scandalous” and a waste of teachers’ time. 

Pupil Assessments in a Pandemic

Earlier this year, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson announced that GCSE and ‘A’ Level exams would be cancelled for 2021 and that grades would instead be determined by a combination of mock exams, coursework and essays.

The majority of schools have chosen to give emphasis to exam-style question papers to determine GCSE and ‘A’ Level grades. An ASCL survey found that 53% of the schools surveyed said that they will give more weight to exam-style assessments, with 26% of respondents saying that grades would be based on a combination of exam-style papers and non-exam evidence.

Ofqual requested that all schools and colleges provide its “policy for internal quality assurance” by 30 April, along with a summary for exam boards to review.

The additional request for samples of student work is designed to provide a third stage of quality assurance, with the policy submission and virtual visit representing the first two stages.

The samples must come from at least five students for one ‘A’ Level subject and from five students across two GCSE subjects, “one of which is likely to be English language or maths”.

‘Evidence It Has No Intention of Looking At

Gathering samples of student work represents what Uttley calls “hundreds of hours more work” with very little time to prepare or plan. 

This is in contrast, teachers feel, to the time Ofqual and the Joint Council for Qualifications have had to plan the revised assessment process – with one deputy head tweeting that “schools have 48 hours to submit evidence when it is asked for by the exam board. However, it took [Ofqual] and [the Joint Council for Qualifications] and the exam boards four months to provide schools with any semblance of a plan despite [Gavin Williamson] saying that it was already on the ‘shelf’.”

But what is provoking even more concern from teachers and their representatives is that, despite the extra work required to provide the samples, the evidence may never be read.

In the blog, Cath Jadhav writes that exam board subject experts will “review the evidence provided by a sample” of schools and colleges. She goes on to say that “some of the centres will be picked at random, but making sure that all centre types and regions are included. Centres will also be selected based on other factors, including significant changes in entry patterns or where a centre is identified as needing additional support, for example because it is a new exam centre.”

Geoff Barton, General Secretary of ASCL, told Schools Week that Ofqual “must not collect evidence from schools and colleges that it has no intention of looking at”.

“Leaving a huge pile of those submissions sitting on the Ofqual doormat, gathering dust, is not acceptable and we are seeking urgent clarification from Ofqual on the extent of work they are asking schools and colleges to do,” he added.

Lack of Trust

The blogpost has also attracted criticism for showing a lack of trust in teachers’ assessments of their students – one of the key issues raised by last year’s exams chaos.

Exam boards will “compare a centre’s results and select centres where the proportion of grades in 2021 appears significantly higher or lower than results in previous years when exams took place… comparison for a centre will be made at qualification level – for all GCSE subjects combined and all ‘A’ level subjects combined”.

From there, “exam boards will prioritise for quality assurance checks those centres where results are more out of line with their historical results than other centres, including where grades are lower”, Jadhav continued. “This doesn’t mean centres must award grades to closely match those in previous years, or that the information from previous years should be used to suppress results”.

Writing in Schools Week, Jonny Uttley explained how Ofqual “is saying ‘we do not trust teachers’”.

“If there is a real value in us submitting reams of documents so they can sit there unread, then I urge Ofqual to have the professional courtesy to come out and explain it clearly,” he said. “If they don’t then we will look at the overwhelming weight of evidence of the last 14 months and reach the only conclusion we can reasonably draw – you don’t trust us.”

In response, a spokesperson from Ofqual told Byline Times “the Secretary of State has said that quality assurance arrangements will support confidence in this year’s arrangements, as it says here. Schools and colleges must make evidence-based judgements, so they must have the evidence to hand. Centres will submit the evidence for five students in three different subjects. We believe that, especially when compared with the amount of work exams staff undertake when exams take place, sending this evidence to an exam board would be manageable and proportionate. Waiting until later could mean that school and college staff would have to do this in the summer break, if an issue comes to light after the end of term.”

“The evidence must exist, otherwise grading decisions will not be possible. Exam boards cannot be sure now which centres’ work will be reviewed and which will definitely not be reviewed,” they added.

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