Schools and teachers have been inundated this week with requests from students and parents to award them good grades.
Following the Department for Education’s decision to award grades based on teacher assessments, many people have taken to contacting their school in order to hopefully secure themselves a better grade.
The new scoring system will replace standard exams like GCSEs and A-Levels, which were cancelled in light of the coronavirus pandemic. It involves teachers scoring and ranking their students in each subject, based on mock exam results, coursework, marks in assignments and any other evidence.
”What we must really not allow to happen this summer is that educational inequality widens.Tom Middlehurstdirector of policy and public affairs at SSAT
The grades they will issue to exam boards at the end of May are intended to reflect what they believe candidates would have achieved, had standardised exams gone ahead.
The announcement of the new grading system has led to many parents contacting teachers in a bid to influence their decisions, which many schools have told their staff to ignore.
Some are offering mitigating circumstances for disappointing mock results, for instance, or insisting that as their child has a private tutor, they would have done better than expected in exams.
It is worried that this way of awarding grades could place disadvantaged or poorer students at risk of inequality, as parents with more financial power will be most likely to try and influence their children’s grades.
Tom Middlehurst, director of policy and public affairs at SSAT, a school network with over 3000 members, said: “The difficulty is that the kind of parents who are having those discussions and making that effort are likely to be middle-class parents.
“What we must really not allow to happen this summer is that educational inequality widens. Already we home-schooling and school closures, there is likely to be a long-term impact on the more disadvantaged and we have to mitigate this where we can.
“Of course, parents want to be reassured by what is going on, but they must allow teachers to use their professional judgements to make those decisions.”
Ofqual, the exam regulator, has instructed schools not to share grades or discuss them with families. The Algaser School in Cheshire, in response to students asking staff about grades, has told parents and students “there is nothing that individuals can do that will influence their final grades”. Ormiston Forge Academy in the West Midlands has also asked its students to “please refrain from contacting teachers about suggested awarded grades”.
One member of staff at a high-performing sixth form college said he had “never received so many emails” from parents thanking him for teaching their child.
Teachers facing a difficult challenge
It is no secret that teachers face a long and difficult task in putting their students in rank order.
For example, in GCSE maths and English alone, there are hundreds of students clustering around grades 4 and 5.
After teacher assessments, Ofqual will carry out a standardisation process to apply statistical adjustments where necessary, to offset teacher grading that is too severe or too generous. This process will use data about each school’s performance in previous years and the cohort’s prior achievement in key stage 2 tests or GCSEs.
This means that regardless of teachers’ assessments, students’ final grades may still change.
Some headteachers are concerned that if too much weight is given to schools’ previous results, it may disadvantage students in secondaries that are on an upward trajectory.
Concerns have also been raised about whether high achieving students from disadvantaged backgrounds will receive the grades they deserve, as previous research suggests such students are typically predicted lower grades than the ones they go on to achieve.