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Teachers to set A level grades, Ofqual confirms

Some warn grading system could see disadvantaged students given lower grades

The government has promised A level results will be “as valid” this year as any other year as the exam watchdog Ofqual outlined how grades will be awarded, but some have warned certain students could miss out.

In plans outlined on 3 April, teachers will submit grades for each student to exam boards by 29 May, using previous class work, mock exam results and any non-exam assessments to back up their awards. Ofqual chief regulator Sally Collier stressed that grades would be standardised to stop students being disadvantaged by differences in teachers’ judgements.

“Please be reassured that the grades you get this summer will look exactly the same as in previous years, and they will have equal status with universities, colleges and employers, to help you move forward in your lives as planned,” Collier wrote in a letter to students.

Exams for GCSE and A level students have been cancelled this year due to the spread of the coronavirus, leaving students and universities questioning how grades would be awarded. Collier said grades will still be published in August and could even be released earlier than usual, while students who want to take exams will be able to do so in the autumn or summer 2021.

Education secretary Gavin Williamson said cancelling exams this year had been “necessary” to fight the spread of the coronavirus, and he promised that grades “will accurately reflect students’ abilities and will be as valid this year as any other”.

Commenting on Ofqual’s awarding system, Universities UK chief executive Alistair Jarvis said the “robust” measures showed that “students and universities alike can take confidence in the way A levels are awarded this year”. But Jarvis reminded universities that they will “have the power to be flexible in taking an applicants’ context into account as part of the admissions process” for September.

Admissions body Ucas said Ofqual’s system would give students “fair and justifiable” results, and Ucas chief executive Clare Marchant told universities to “consider these grades in the same way as any qualifications from previous years”.

But the University and College union warned that disadvantaged students could miss out on the top grades by relying on their teachers, as they are more likely to be given lower predicted grades than they might achieve in exams. Jo Grady, general secretary of the UCU, stressed that disadvantaged students “fare badly” with predicted grades and are less likely to “have to tools to navigate the appeals system”.

“The context in which qualifications are achieved needs to be considered by colleges and universities; not all achievements are equal and they should not be seen as such,” she said, adding that universities should make “greater use of contextual data so that students progress according to their achievements and, crucially, their potential”.

Meanwhile David Hughes, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, urged Ofqual to consider the “systemic under-prediction for black and minority and disadvantaged candidates in university admissions” when setting up its grading system.

Elsewhere, on the day the regulator’s moratorium on universities converting applications to unconditional offers lapsed, the Office for Students urged universities to keep offering students good quality courses and “credible” qualifications during the coronavirus pandemic.

In guidance outlining the regulator’s expectations, OfS director for registration and competition Susan Lapworth said universities should assess students “reliably but flexibly”, possibly reducing or postponing assessments for students. She added universities must “make all reasonable efforts” to offer online courses that are equivalent to students’ normal courses, and to help students who need extra support.

“We expect universities and colleges to make all reasonable efforts to enable students to complete their studies, for their achievement to be reliably assessed and for qualifications to be awarded fairly,” she said. “Despite the significant disruption being felt across the higher sector, students deserve appropriate support and recognition for their hard work and dedication.”