Students could sit external papers to inform teacher assessments – Williamson

GCSE and A-level students in England could be asked to sit externally-set papers to help teachers with their assessments after exams were cancelled, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has suggested.

Mr Williamson has set out his expectations for how this summer’s exams will be replaced to ensure students receive fair grades in a letter to England’s exams regulator Ofqual.

Teachers should make a final judgement on a student’s grade “as late as possible” to maximise the remaining teaching time and ensure students remain motivated, the Education Secretary has said.

Last week, Mr Williamson told MPs that he wishes to use a form of teacher-assessed grades to award results after he announced that GCSE, AS and A-level exams were to be cancelled amid the pandemic.

In a letter to Ofqual’s chief regulator Simon Lebus, Mr Williamson has said he would like “to explore the possibility” of using externally set tasks or papers to help teachers with their assessments of students.

The Education Secretary said the Government has agreed not to use an algorithm to set or automatically standardise students’ grades, but he said there should be external checks in place to support fairness and consistency between different institutions and to avoid schools “proposing anomalous grades”.

Last summer, thousands of A-level students had their results downgraded from school estimates by a controversial algorithm, before Ofqual announced a U-turn allowing them to use teachers’ predictions.

Mr Williamson said: “My view is that any changes to grades as a result of the external quality assurance process should be the exception: the process will not involve second-guessing the judgment of teachers but confirming that the process and evidence used to award a grade is reasonable.

“Changes should only be made if those grades cannot be justified, rather than as a result of marginal differences of opinion. Any changes should be based on human decisions, not by an automatic process or algorithm.”

A consultation on the options for exam alternatives is due to be published by Ofqual later this week.

Last week, Ofqual urged students in England to engage “as fully” as they can with learning amid uncertainty about GCSEs and A-level assessment.

In the letter, Mr Williamson added: “It is my view that a teacher’s final judgment on a student’s grade ought to be as late as possible in the academic year to maximise remaining teaching time and ensure students are motivated to remain engaged in education.”

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: “We are relieved to see confirmation that no algorithm will be applied this year following last summer’s grading debacle.

“One of the key issues, however, will be precisely how any system of externally set assessment would work and how this can be done in a way that ensures fairness for students who have been heavily disrupted by the pandemic.

“It is vital that the final plans not only provide fairness and consistency but that they are also workable for schools, colleges and teaching staff who will have to put them into practice.”

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