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Misleading ‘U-turn’ on predicted grades

Updated: Aug 21, 2020

An open letter to Secretary of State for Education

Dear Rt Hon Gavin Williamson MP,

The final-hour announcement made today in relation to the already issued grades for A-level students, comes at a time when thousands of students have already lost their university offers, which is now irreversible, as many universities have filled course vacancies. Since A-level grades were released last week, we have spoken directly to universities, and learnt that many were unprepared due to the governments snap decision making surrounding the appeals process, which has also now been revoked, thereby compromising many students’ ability to access clearing options. This complicated web of failure together with multiple poor decisions have entrapped the most disadvantaged students, derailing the equalising impact that education is meant to have. The so-called U-turn then, can do little to remedy the situation for A-level students and is therefore misleading the public and young people as to the true scale of inequality and missed opportunities that continue to persist. While today’s decision omits the second phase of grade suppression by regulators, which we welcome, the first phase through which teacher grades were predicted, continues to remain a flawed process. Therefore, reverting back to teacher predictions is not necessarily a remedy.

Photograph: Robert Moore / Via Getty Images

In April 2020, we, the Equality Act Review, wrote to Ofqual advising that schools’ past performance should not feature in the algorithm used to predict grades by teachers, as this would prejudice talented pupils from poorer backgrounds. We also advised Ofqual to improve the language employed in the discourse around grade predictions processes, issue details for a streamlined and centralised appeals process, and ensure that equality guidelines have been met by assessment centres. Our contribution also extended to widening the approach to better prepare universities to relax their entry requirements in light of the way the grade predictions discourse was unfolding. We did not hear back from Ofqual despite numerous attempts of contact.

We also conducted the first and only study to explore the experiences of A-level and GCSE students during April and May, the results of which we published in our report “Predicting Futures”. Over 800 responses from students across the country were collected. Over 85% were from BAME backgrounds, and over 80% were concerned about their grades being predicted. We found bias to include teacher unconscious bias, bad behaviour, learning styles, health and extenuating circumstances, all of which impacted negatively young people’s academic performance at the time of and/or in the lead up to sitting mock exams. We recommended indexes to be applied to inflate student grades in order to mitigate for BAME bias, mitigating circumstances bias, and learning style bias. Once more, the DfE, Commons Education Committee, and Ofqual failed to engage. Importantly, none of the aforementioned forms of bias have been accounted for in the first phase of grade predictions made by teachers and thus, today’s announcement risks functioning as a vehicle that is designed to increase positive PR for the government.

We urge you to take proportionate action to not only remedy the downgrading that occurred last week, but for the missed opportunities that ensued as a result. We strongly recommend the following:

  • Urge all universities to honour student offers based on their predicted grades.

  • Urge all universities to increase course cohort size, which will allow for those who missed opportunities, to be able to pursue their initial chosen courses. Without this, the decision to revert to teacher predicted grades is redundant.

  • Waive all costs of resitting exams in Autumn 2020.

  • To reinstate the appeals process, as today’s announcement risks benefiting a small proportion of students who were most affected by phase two of the predictions process where regulators suppressed grades.

  • Allow all those who missed out on a university place to embark on a FREE skills-based or industry placement year, so that young people can actively pursue training that continues their professional and personal development. This should be an accredited and certified course, and one that is recognised by employers across the country. Our CEO and founder, a lecturer, and also an expert in skills workshops for BAME and disadvantaged groups, is happy to consult and help inform as to the content of this one-year interim qualification, that allows the bridging of opportunities into higher education and/or employment. This course can be put in place before October 1st 2020 if action is taken now.

With regard to the forthcoming issuing of GCSE grades, we ask the government to adjust the algorithm to ensure that the schools’ past performances are omitted, as in many cases, assessment centres have employed this when submitting their teacher grade predictions, to have a centralised and streamlined appeals process, as the predictions were not an accurate representation of student grades, and to advise all FE colleges to accept students based on their predicted grades in addition to any mitigating circumstances they may have experienced during and/or in the lead up to their mock exams.

Should you have any further enquiries please do not hesitate to get in touch. We are happy to advise in a voluntary capacity so that young people have their rights and opportunities protected regardless of their postcode, socioeconomic background, race, and ethnicity.

Yours sincerely,

The Equality Act Review

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