Are the impending grades fair?

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21 July 2021

By Michaela Makusha

Students across the country are concerned that they will not receive fair GCSE and A Level grades this summer. Rather than taking exams, students have been assessed by their teachers, based on a range of evidence including mock exams, coursework, and in-class tests using questions by exam boards.

According to a poll by the Social Mobility Foundation (SMF) of 1,300 high-achieving, disadvantaged students, 38% are concerned that they will not be fairly graded based on their performance.

36% were not confident they will receive the grades they need for their chosen career path, or to secure a university place this autumn, the poll also found.

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The findings come after teachers in England have finalised decisions on their pupils’ GCSE and A-level grades after this summer’s exams were cancelled for the second year in a row.

The SMF is calling for all UK governments to ensure Year 13 pupils can repeat the year, if deemed appropriate by their schools. They also ask that those opting to take exams in the autumn can do so free of charge.

It is understandable why some students are worried. Last year, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson faced backlash when an algorithm was used to determine students’ grades.

This resulted in private school students receiving higher grades than those at state schools. Many accused the government of prioritising advantaged students over those who attend poorly-funded state schools.

Ofqual, the exam board regulator, have tried to reassure students that teacher assessments are the best way to mark. Dr Michelle Meadows, deputy chief regulator at Ofqual, told ITV News: “The resulting teacher-assessed grades are the fairest way to award results in the circumstances and to reflect differences in content covered by students.”

“Teachers are best placed to make those professional judgments and decide from a range of choices available what is the most suitable evidence to use when grading their pupils, from exam questions to coursework.”

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In response, the chairman of the SMF, Alan Milburn, said: ‘We cannot afford to get this wrong again. Disadvantaged young people have already disproportionality suffered during the pandemic.”

“If the government is truly committed to prioritising the most disadvantaged, they must have an appeal process that recognises that the pandemic has had a disproportionate effect on those from poorer backgrounds.”


The charity also questioned 1,578 students taking part in the SMF programmes. The survey found the 58% of students felt that not all parts of the country had suffered equally because of the pandemic. The fear is that the inability to access the same resources – broadband, technology, etc. – will affect their grades.

This is yet another example of how the Covid pandemic has negatively affected young people.

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