Williamson puts teachers in charge of GCSE and A-level grades

Gavin Williamson has sought to reassure parents there would be no repeat of last summer’s school exams fiasco in England as he ruled out the use of algorithms to determine GCSE and A-level grades.

The education secretary will lay out plans on Thursday for teacher-assessed grades that use a range of methods, including mock exams, coursework and in-class essays.

Speaking at Downing Street on Wednesday evening ahead of the announcement, Williamson said he was “putting trust in teachers . . . there is going to be no algorithms whatsoever but there will be a very clear and robust appeals mechanism”.

Ministers cancelled this summer’s exams in England at the start of last month, in one of a series of U-turns on education as the government was forced to close schools following an upsurge in coronavirus infections over Christmas.

Those decisions followed the chaos of last summer, when Williamson had to backtrack on a decision to use an algorithm devised by exams watchdog Ofqual to moderate A-level and GCSE results.

Under this year’s scheme, teachers will have to submit their grades to exam boards by June 18, with results day scheduled for the second week of August. Students will be assessed only on content they have been taught and will have the opportunity to appeal against their grades.

The approach followed a consultation by Ofqual. Simon Lebus, the interim chief regulator, said he was “confident” that the teacher assessments would ensure that students’ grades reflected their academic achievement and took into account educational inequalities exacerbated by the pandemic.

“Assessment cannot itself serve as an instrument to recover lost learning and compensate for the different experiences students will have had in different parts of the country, and the arrangements being put in place will therefore only take into account what students have been taught, not what they have missed,” he said.

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This year, exam boards will provide teachers with “detailed guidance” on the practicalities of grading and schools and colleges will be obliged to conduct checks to ensure that results have been awarded consistently. 

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, welcomed the approach to grades. “It is the right decision to give schools and colleges flexibility over the assessments they use, including whether or not to use assessments provided by exam boards.”

Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, the largest teaching union, said she was concerned the approach should “not increase workload” for teachers and asked for more information on how schools and colleges would be supported to ensure that did not happen.

In an effort to tackle concerns over the long-term impact of the pandemic on young people, the government also announced this week that schools would receive £400m to help pupils make up for lost learning during the latest lockdown.

The financial allocation, which is in addition to £1bn announced in June and £300m last month, will fund face-to-face summer schools and clubs alongside early-years language development.

“No child should have their prospects blighted by the pandemic and I’m determined that this is not going to happen,” Williamson said.


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