Why were so many A-level results downgraded? England's exam regulator explains why it was 'forced' to lower students' grades

England’s exam regulator Ofqual said it was forced to downgrade thousands of A-level results owing to “implausibly high” predictions submitted by teachers.

Friday, 14th August 2020, 9:01 am

A-level results day descended in chaos as 39.1% of teachers’ estimates for pupils in England were adjusted down by one grade or more, according to data from the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual).

The downgrades – amounting to some 280,000 entries – were enacted as the nation’s education officials grappled with the vexing issue of how to determine results in a year in which exams were cancelled due to coronavirus.

The Government is coming under increasing pressure to review its moderation and appeals system, with pupils complaining they have been let down, and experts warning poorer students will be affected most due to reassessments which consider schools’ past performances.

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A protest by students, parents and teachers is planned for Downing Street on Friday morning, while at least one student is reportedly threatening legal action against Ofqual.

But Ofqual said it had been forced into the downgrades by inaccurate predictions by many teachers, although the vast majority had submitted accurate estimates.

“Because there was no opportunity to develop a common approach to grading, the standard applied by different schools and colleges varies greatly,” an Ofqual spokesman told The Daily Telegraph.

“A rare few centres put in implausibly high judgments, including one which submitted all A* and A grades for students in two subjects, where previously there had been normal distribution.”

Students across the country received their A level results on Thursday, August 13.

While the proportion of students with A-level grade reductions was largest among those from the most deprived backgrounds, the regulator has insisted there was no evidence of systemic bias.

Schools and colleges were told to submit the grades they thought each student would have received if they had sat the papers, alongside a rank order of students.

Exam boards moderated these centre-assessment grades to ensure this year’s results were not significantly higher than previous years, and the value of students’ grades were not undermined.

After standardisation, the proportion of A-level entries awarded top grades still rose to an all-time high, with 27.9% securing an A or above this year, figures for England, Wales and Northern Ireland show.

But school leaders warned of a “great deal of volatility” in results at individual centres, with some colleges reporting more than half of their grades had been adjusted downwards after moderation.

Overall, in England a total of 35.6% of grades were adjusted down by one grade, 3.3% were brought down by two grades and 0.2% came down by three grades, figures show.

Some 85% of candidates classed as having a “low” socio-economic status by Ofqual had been predicted to achieve a C and above by their schools.

But this fell to 74.6% once final grades were calculated under this year’s new moderation process.

By contrast, the proportion of students from the least deprived backgrounds, or “high” socio-economic status, awarded a C and above fell by 8.3 percentage points during the process, from 89.3% to 81.0%.

Ministers are now facing calls to urgently review the moderation process in England and to make sure schools and colleges do not face financial barriers when lodging appeals for students.

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