D&T Association response to the DfE/OFQUAL GCSE/A Level and TVQ Consultations
Published 27th January 2021
Just over a week ago, I sat in on the DfE/OFQUAL Zoom calls to talk through their intention to consult on plans for awarding this summer's GCSE, A Level and TVQs. In the interim, we spoke with teachers, looked carefully at social media and considered our response. Having just spent the best part of two hours submitting this response online, I thought it a good idea to share a summary of our thoughts publicly.
I guess it is worth starting this by stating that in an ideal world none of us wanted to be where we are and that any solution reached will be a compromise and will probably be far from being perfect. I have to declare that I am in the position of responding on behalf of the Association and our members nationally, but I am also a parent of a Year 11 student.
One of the main differences between this year's proposals and last year’s is that teachers are being asked to assess and grade their students reflecting what the student knows, understands and can do. This is different from last year, where teachers were asked to predict the grade that their students would have achieved had it not been for the pandemic's disruption. This year we are being asked to make an evidence-based judgement and any appeals (more on that later), will be assessed against this evidence base.
One factor that was a key element last year and does not get much mention this year is that our responsibility as educators is to provide accuracy of grade award that allows for advancement to the next stage of education. Put simply; students should not be held back from progression because they could not attend a school that was closed. This does not affect the grade awarded, but will instead require schools, colleges, universities, and higher education institutions to carefully consider their entrance requirements.
For me, there is a level of contradiction within the proposals presented. The government, DfE and OFQUAL are rightfully concerned not to repeat the mistakes made last year when a computer algorithm was set not to recognise that bright students in lower-performing schools are still bright students!
Gavin Williamson has repeatedly stated that the government will trust teachers, not algorithms. On the face of it that is good news, teachers are best placed to know what their students are capable of, what areas of the curriculum they are strong in and where any weaknesses may exist. Formative assessment will exist that provides an evidence base for work completed so far. Teachers across the country are doing their very best, in very testing circumstances, to prepare their students to the same levels as they would in any other year.
At the same time, I believe Dame Alison Peacock is right in her article in last week's Schools Week to describe this as a possible poisoned chalice
Teachers are being encouraged to gather a range of evidence that demonstrates each student's ability in the subject (I repeat, what the student knows, understands and can do). This can come from a range of sources including mock examinations, ongoing assessment including but not exclusive to written tests, written and oral presentations, and in our subject the NEA.
The NEA will be at various stages of completion at the moment. Our advice is to push on with work on this as best you can in the circumstances. We know that students will at the moment have limited access to tools, machinery and specialist equipment; this may change in the coming months, but until we are informed otherwise, the NEA is a critical assessment tool within our subject.
While on this topic I should add that I do not believe that students should be awarded a separate grade for the NEA that will be reported alongside the overall grade as suggested within the consultation. Again, this provides one aspect of a bigger assessment picture.
Awarding Organisations proposal
We generally welcome Ofqual's proposal to instruct the awarding organisations to work closely together to provide guidance and support for teachers on how best to make assessments within each subject. We need consistency, and the boards are capable and very good at setting out and delivering this type of guidance.
The proposal to instruct Awarding Organisations to construct shorter examinations is more complex and far more challenging.
We are all aware that there are schools in the country where every student has a good broadband connection at home and where the switch from being school based to home working was reasonably seamless. These students will have lost little learning time and have perhaps covered the vast majority of the curriculum that they would typically be assessed against. There are other students who are not as fortunate, do not have digital access and have pretty much been working off photocopies since March.
Given the above, how does anyone create a test that will be fair and equitable for all? In the consultation, we are informed that teachers would be given some choice as to what paper to select from a number presented; thus, allowing them to select from content that has been adequately covered. Given the disparity of access nationally, I would suggest that even this will be difficult.
The proposal asks if respondents believe that the proposed tests should be compulsory or optional. Here I refer back to the contradiction within these proposals. We are either trusting teachers to assess their students using a range of assessment sources (possibly including past papers or tests either internally or externally composed) or we are saying that we don't trust you. Therefore, every student must sit a hastily prepared national test.
Even if the AOs manage to produce a range of tests that are fair and useful to teachers, we are not in a position as I write to determine if these tests will be able to be sat under examination conditions in schools (OFQUAL and the DfE's preferred option) or at home, where all aspects of possible malpractice need to be carefully considered.
For me, it would be fantastic to have a set of tests that can be used alongside other assessment methodologies to determine an accurate grade for each student, but these should be optional and not mandatory. A tool to be used, not a stick to be clumsily utilised.
It is proposed that assessments for each student should be submitted from late May to early June. Any earlier and there will be insufficient time to gather adequate assessment for each student; any later and appeals could hamper progression.
It is proposed that any appeal is in the first instance directed at the school.
I take real issue with this proposal, informed both by my current role and my previous life as a headteacher. Given the circumstances that we all find ourselves in this year, it is not unreasonable to expect appeals to increase this year as students and their parents do not achieve the grades they believe they are worthy of. While teachers will be instructed not to tell students what grades they have been awarded in advance, the students and their parents will know that it is the teacher who is solely responsible for awarding the grade this year.
This is further muddied by the proposal that a teacher cannot then revisit their awarded grade but must instead pull in a professional colleague either from within the school or external, to check and report on the appeal.
I agree that the Awarding Organisations should be involved in setting the parameters within which teachers make assessment judgments and provide guidance to assist this process. I agree that the AOs can provide quality assurance across centres, ensuring that we are all working to expected standards. With the head of centre (usually the headteacher) signing to say that all guidance and process has been strictly followed within their school, any appeal should be around the process and not the judgement. I believe that this appeal needs to be to a body external to the school, providing students and their parents with the comfort of impartiality.
I am also uncomfortable with a mandatory external test because the proposal is that teachers will mark these to a very short turn around. This can be avoided by providing these tests for teachers to use to support other assessment evidence in their own time. Teachers have performed near miracles in this pandemic to date; they are weary but resilient. It should be recognised that their energy levels and capacity are not limitless.
Questions are asked within the consultation around how best to assess private candidates who are not registered with a school. I do not believe that these students should be allowed to simply register with local schools to provide evidence for teachers (who clearly will not know these students) to assess their levels. I can see no other option but for these students to sit a normal examination process, registering for this at a local centre or school as they usually would. It can be argued that their education should not have been unduly hindered as they were learning at home in any case?
Finally, I agree that grades should be formally awarded in early July as soon as they are available (not waiting until mid-August as would normally be the case) allowing students, their parents and centres to concentrate on progression to the next stage of their development.Back to News