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Pupils could sit mini-exams to inform teacher-assessed grades

Pupils could be told to sit mini-exams to help teachers calculate A-level and GCSE results as Gavin Williamson rules out using an algorithm after last summer’s debacle

  • Ministers today said they will not use an algorithm to calculate student grades
  • Decision to use algorithm last year descended into chaos and prompted U-turn
  • Gavin Williamson raised prospect of pupils doing externally-set mini-exams 

GCSE and A-level students in England could be told to sit externally-set mini-exams in the coming months to help teachers come up with their final grades.   

Gavin Williamson today raised the prospect of pupils being set written tasks to complete by an external body so teachers have ‘broad evidence’ on which to base their assessments. 

The Education Secretary also ruled out using any sort of Government algorithm to help calculate grades after the exams debacle seen last summer. 

Mr Williamson told MPs last week he wants to use a form of teacher-assessed grades to award results after GCSE, AS and A-level exams were cancelled because of disruption caused by the coronavirus crisis. 

The Education Secretary has set out his expectations for how grades will be awarded this summer in a letter to Ofqual, England’s exams regulator. 

Pupils in England could be asked to complete externally-set tasks to help teachers come up with their grades after exams were cancelled 

Gavin Williamson has written to exams regulator Ofqual to set out how grades should be awarded

Gavin Williamson has written to exams regulator Ofqual to set out how grades should be awarded

He stressed teachers should make a final judgement on a student’s grade ‘as late as possible’ to maximise teaching time and to keep pupils motivated as they deal with school closures. 

A consultation on the options for exam alternatives is due to be published by Ofqual later this week. Mr Williamson said in his letter that external-set tasks could be among them.

He wrote: ‘A breadth of evidence should inform teachers’ judgments, and the provision of training and guidance will support teachers to reach their assessment of a student’s deserved grade. This should be drawn out in the consultation.

‘In addition, I would like to explore the possibility of providing externally set tasks or papers, in order that teachers can draw on this resource to support their assessments of students.

‘We should seek views in the consultation on what broader evidence should determine a teacher’s assessment of a student’s grade and whether we should require or recommend the use of the externally set tasks or papers.’

It is thought the externally-set written tasks or tests would likely be an optional tool for teachers to make use of. 

They would be set by exam boards but crucially they would be marked by teachers and used to inform the overall assessment of a pupil’s performance. 

The Government will be desperate to put in a place a bullet-proof exams replacement scheme after the chaos caused last year by a mutant algorithm. 

Ministers tried to use computer modelling to help award grades after exams were cancelled. 

But public outcry forced them to ditch the algorithm in favour of teacher predicted grades after thousands of students saw their A-level marks downgraded far below school estimates.    

Mr Williamson said the Government has agreed not to use an algorithm this time around. 

He said in his letter to Ofqual: ‘We have agreed that we will not use an algorithm to set or automatically standardise anyone’s grade.

‘Schools and colleges should undertake quality assurance of their teachers’ assessments and provide reassurance to the exam boards. 

‘We should provide training and guidance to support that, and there should also be external checks in place to support fairness and consistency between different institutions and to avoid schools and colleges proposing anomalous grades.’

But he added: ‘Changes should only be made if those grades cannot be justified, rather than as a result of marginal differences of opinion.

‘Any changes should be based on human decisions, not by an automatic process or algorithm.’

The decision to steer clear of an algorithm was welcomed by teaching unions. 

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: ‘We are relieved to see confirmation that no algorithm will be applied this year following last summer’s grading debacle.

‘One of the key issues, however, will be precisely how any system of externally set assessment would work and how this can be done in a way that ensures fairness for students who have been heavily disrupted by the pandemic.

‘It is vital that the final plans not only provide fairness and consistency but that they are also workable for schools, colleges and teaching staff who will have to put them into practice.’

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