Where Would We Be Without Exams? New Arrangements for 2022 and Beyond

Posted in : Cassidy's Comments on 18 February 2022
Frank Cassidy
Former Principal & Regional Officer of ASCL
Issues covered: Exams; Education; Coronavirus

The Chief Regulator of Ofqual, Dr Jo Saxton writing to school leaders on February 3rd, outlined her approach to how A Level and GCSE examinations should precede as we begin a third year of disrupted education for our young people.

“It’s very clear to me that dealing with the impact of the pandemic has been challenging for school and college leaders, staff and students up and down the country. I want to be totally clear that my priority is to act in the interests of all students. I want them, and their families, to have confidence in their qualifications. So, I’m writing to confirm the arrangements for regulated qualifications being taken next year. I would ask that you please share this letter with teaching and support staff.”
Open letters: arrangements for exams and assessments in 2022 - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

One of the key phrases in this extract from the letter was...“ have confidence in their qualifications”. Thinking back over the past two exam series during the pandemic, in addition to the worry for pupils, parents and teachers trying to prepare pupils by remote learning, there was the hiatus over estimated grades. Questions naturally arose about how much confidence there would be in grades which were not based on conventional exams but on teachers submitting assessments of their own pupils

The Daily Mail Online has reported that a Sunday Times investigation has revealed  widespread  private school grade inflation in 2021, with the number of A-level pupils achieving A* grades rising to 39.5 percent, compared with just 16.1 percent in 2019 when pupils last sat examinations. MPs have accused schools of 'manipulation' of England's exam system during the pandemic and have demanded the exam regulator, Ofqual, answer for it. 
Private schools 'gamed' Covid to double their top grades, investigation finds | Daily Mail Online

Shadow Education Secretary Bridget Philipson has called for an inquiry. Interviewed by The Guardian she said that;

“Ministers’ chaotic, last-minute decision-making created a grading system which enabled privileged schools to push sky high results unchallenged.”

Labour has insisted that an inquiry is urgently needed, including enabling anonymous evidence from staff to uncover how these results went unchecked last summer.”
Labour seeks inquiry into huge jump in top grade A-levels at private schools | A-levels | The Guardian

Ofqual’s response to this has been to formally state that ... 'All heads of schools and colleges submitted a formal declaration on the accuracy and integrity of grades and processes supporting them.’

This year however they have announced a return of exams and crucially that they are taking steps to return to pre-pandemic grades in a phased way. They are clear that overall grades will not be as high as they were last year.

The effect of the grade inflation over the pandemic has of course affected university admissions, particularly high demand courses like medicine and fallout from 2021 could persist in the coming  application cycle because some Medical School applicants, who met their A-level offers in record numbers in 2021, were asked to defer to the following academic year therefore reducing the number of places available for candidates next time around.

In the Chief Regulator’s letter to schools the effect on students caused by the lost learning during the pandemic is acknowledged and action to reduce the pressure on students with a range of mitigations in GCSE, AS and A Levels is proposed;

“In September, Ofqual and the Department for Education (DfE) set out the support that will be available for students taking their exams next summer, in response to the disruption to education caused by the pandemic. This means a choice of topics in some GCSE exams like English literature and history, advance information about the focus of exams to help students’ revision for other GCSEs and all AS and A levels, and support materials in some exams, such as formulae sheets in GCSE maths.”

To ensure a resetting of grade standards Ofqual propose a grading standard that reflects a midway point between 2021 and 2019. Exam boards will set the grade boundaries so that more students get higher grades in 2022 than before the pandemic. Thereby providing a safety net for students who might otherwise just miss out on a higher grade and not miss out by a few marks.

Ofqual have taken this decision to reflect the reality that we are in a pandemic recovery period, that students’ education has been disrupted and that they have made adaptations to the exams. In 2023 however it is planned to return to results that are in line with those in pre-pandemic years.

Locally  CCEA are following suit. In a new guide for students to the summer 2022 exams, papers will be graded more generously than in pre-pandemic years to make up for the disruption Covid has had on learning. CCEA has also said that there will be a reserve series of exams for A-Levels "to give students another chance to sit an exam they may have missed and ensure they can achieve a qualification grade this year". Together with some GCSE subjects which will only have one paper to sit, this takes account of the potential that pupils may miss an exam through illness or Covid isolation and be unable to get a grade.

Overall then, pupils and teachers have been given notice of reduced topics to be examined and the number of papers to be sat in the forthcoming examinations. Taken together with the interim generous marking and grade boundary settings, pupils have been given as much migration as possible while retaining the integrity of the examination system. It has made us realise how much we actually depend on the reliability of examinations and the results pupils work so hard to achieve.

This article is correct at 18/02/2022

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Frank Cassidy
Former Principal & Regional Officer of ASCL

The main content of this article was provided by Frank Cassidy. Email frankcassidy63@outlook.com

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