MPs fear ‘Wild West’ of grades and ‘chaos’ around university places this summer

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The Government could face “chaos” and a “Wild West” of A-level and GCSE grades after this summer’s exams were cancelled, MPs have warned.

Alternative assessment arrangements could lead to “much higher grade inflation”, the House of Commons Education Select Committee has said.

Conservative MP Robert Halfon, committee chairman, said it could “create chaos for the thousands of students chasing college and further and higher education places in August”.

His comments came after Ofqual said schools should keep records of incidents where parents or students have pressurised teachers to submit higher grades as it could be treated as malpractice.

Teachers in England will decide their pupils’ GCSE and A-level grades after this summer’s exams were cancelled for the second year in a row.

The Education Select Committee has written to Gavin Williamson to raise concerns about the alternative arrangements for awarding grades.

In a letter to the Education Secretary, Mr Halfon said: “First, we have a real fear that the package of measures being proposed, as it stands, risks much higher grade inflation happening this summer, possibly well beyond what was seen last August.

“This would, of course, have absolutely no benefit or value to anyone, and especially not to students in the long term.

“It would also create chaos for the thousands of students chasing college, and further and higher education places come August.”

His comments came as Britain’s largest teaching union accused the Government of “hiding behind” teachers who are likely to be “lambasted” if this summer’s GCSE and A-level grades are higher.

Mr Halfon said: “The proposed replacement measures for exams this summer risk being too inconsistent across schools and colleges and beg the question whether there will be a level playing field for pupils and public confidence in assessments.

“There are concerns that there will be a Wild West in grading and ever-increasing grade inflation.

“Of course, there are no easy answers given what has happened with Covid. However, the DfE and Ofqual should consider some kind of standardised assessment and a more robust way of validating teacher-assessed grades.”

Thousands of A-level students had their results downgraded from school estimates by a controversial algorithm before Ofqual announced a U-turn which allowed them to use teachers’ predictions.

The proportion of A-level and GCSE entries in England awarded top grades surged to a record high last year following the U-turn.

Mr Halfon has warned that teachers may overcompensate with their decisions on grades this year if they played by the rules last summer.

He said: “There is a risk that the teachers who ‘played by the rules’ last year, whilst others perhaps inflated grades more heavily, are not going to make that same ‘mistake’ this year and could potentially overcompensate when reaching their judgments on student grades.”

During a press briefing on Thursday, Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), said it was likely that there would be “some grade inflation” this summer.

She said ministers have “left teachers in an invidious position because if there is grade inflation this summer, you know who will be blamed for that. And you know who the Government is hiding behind.”

Dr Bousted added: “And yet when teachers make that ethical professional decision – and it results in some raising of grades this summer – they are going to be lambasted for that, and it is entirely unethical that they have been placed by politicians not doing their homework in this position.”

“But we are confident that teacher-assessed grades are the fairest way to award results in these challenging times.

“We have published objectivity guidance to help teachers counter unconscious bias and exam boards will soon be publishing further guidance for teachers.

“We expect teachers to use multiple sources of evidence to arrive at a grade, and to use their professional judgment.”

A Department for Education (DfE) spokeswoman said: “The department, working closely with Ofqual and the sector, has put fairness at the heart of this year’s plans to ensure young people can get to their next stage of education, training, or employment.

“Students will receive grades determined by teachers, who we trust to use their professional judgment, and students will only be assessed on what they have been taught.

“Schools, colleges and exam boards will undertake internal and external checks on the consistency of teachers’ judgments, to help maximise fairness for all pupils no matter their background or where they live.”

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