Grade inflation soars as schools consider appealing excessive Ofqual upgrades

The government’s exam results misery continues, with head teachers in England now considering appealing against rogue spikes in GCSE results published yesterday.

BBC News reports that this year’s grades, which were predominantly based on teacher assessments after the exam regulator’s algorithmic national moderation system was discredited, were substantially higher than last year’s.

78.8% of GCSE results had been awarded grade 4 or higher, compared to 2019’s 69.8%.

However, the Guardian newspaper reports on bizarre anomalies beneath the national average figure, with many schools discovering that significant numbers of their pupils had unexpectedly been awarded results well above their teacher’s ‘centre assessment grades’ (CAGs).

Concerns are now mounting that sixth form colleges and further education establishments will be overwhelmed with students apparently meeting qualification criteria, even though the grades may not reflect their true ability to manage more advanced study.

Head teachers fear that this is setting them up for failure.

One head teacher, Philip Jones (Ferndown Upper School, Dorset) told Guardian reporters that over 300 grades at his school, amounting to 15% of the total, had been lifted above his teachers’ CAGs, some of them by two grades.

Other heads were baffled to find that some of their pupils had been awarded “impossible” grades: a number of pupils who had been entered for Foundation-level papers this year had been awarded a grade 6 by Ofqual, when the maximum possible grade that could be attained upon actually sitting the exam was 5.

Ofqual has not entirely ditched its algorithmic moderation process – if it results in a grade higher than a CAG, then that grade will be given to the student.

Only grades lowered by the algorithm below CAGs have been abandoned by the regulator in favour of more generous teacher estimates.

Other rogue results include a West Yorkshire pupil whose CAG was level 1 in a particular subject but who was actually awarded an 8 by Ofqual after moderation.

12 other pupils from the same school received results for one subject that were four grades higher than their teacher forecasts.

Ofqual’s own figures show that the total number of pupils receiving top GCSE grades this year leapt by 26%.

As if attempting to stave off further criticism, Ofqual has stated that due to the unprecedented pandemic conditions faced by the education sector, 2020’s results cannot be compared with 2019’s.

The regulator further confirmed that students who are dissatisfied with the grades awarded by their school or college will not be permitted to appeal, unless an administrative error can be demonstrated or there were concerns about bias or discrimination.

The leader of the head teacher’s union ASCL, Geoff Barton, criticised the government for permitting higher algorithm grades to be awarded instead of relying solely on CAGs, which he said had resulted in further grade inflation.

This would lead students to sign up for courses for which they were not equipped, he warned, adding: “The risk is that it sets them up for failure.”

A former adviser to the Department for Education, Sam Freedman, reported that he had received suggestions from “a couple of heads” that they may appeal some extreme upgrades as they will inevitably foster unrealistic expectations among affected pupils.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said that this year’s pupils should be “incredibly proud of all they’ve achieved in the face of immense challenge and uncertainty”.

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