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18 August 2020

Teachers’ assessments of A Level grades win the day. But what if those assessments are seriously flawed?

2 mins

In a remarkable statement yesterday afternoon, Ofqual’s chair, Roger Taylor, has announced that the algorithm-based standardization model had been abandoned and A Level grades will now generally be awarded on the basis of school and college assessments. The same approach will apply to AS level and GCSE grades. He added that where a student has received a higher grade as a result of moderation (the application of the standardization model, presumably) they will retain that grade.

Many will welcome this U-turn, despite the chaos it will cause for University admissions processes in the short term. But what does the announcement mean for students whose assessment and moderated grades are both far lower than they expected?

On this, Ofqual has said nothing so far. Under the appeals system previously announced, students could not challenge the professional judgement exercised in completing assessments. However,  schools and colleges were expected to investigate evidence-based complaints of bias, discrimination and ‘malpractice’ internally and, if such complaints were not resolved satisfactorily, then students could raise them with Ofqual. It is not yet clear whether these mechanisms will still be available.

Few grade assessments are likely to be flawed in these ways, but some may be and schools should always properly and fairly investigate any complaints made – with legal advice where needed. For one thing, the stakes are very high for those concerned, students and teachers alike. Further, if Ofsted has shut down the complaints route, unhappy students may turn to the Courts, either through judicial review or by bringing discrimination claims in the County Court. Whilst there will be little judicial sympathy for challenges to matters of pure professional judgement, the Courts will expect a proper explanation for assessments which, on their face, make no sense, particularly if there is evidence of differences in treatment on grounds of protected characteristics such as sex, race or disability.

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