Alarm bells sound ahead of A-level results day

Shadow education secretary Kate Green wrote to her counterpart in government “to demand urgent clarifications for parents and children” who are worried about A-level results this year

The government has been told this year’s system for calculating A-level grades “risks baking in inequality” after analysis of yesterday’s Higher results in Scotland revealed that students from deprived backgrounds were more likely to have their estimated grades lowered during moderation.

In a letter to the Department for Education, shadow education Kate Green said she was concerned that this year’s results could have a “potentially disproportionate impact on different demographics”, after SQA’s own equality impact assessment revealed that deprived schools were statistically more likely to have their grade estimates lowered by moderators.

“Analysis of the comparison between teacher estimates and the statistical moderation used to calculate the Scottish results has shown a reduction of 15.2 per cent in the most deprived communities, compared to just 6.9 per cent in the most affluent areas – entrenching inequality for those from the poorest backgrounds and areas,” Ms Green explained.

Alarm bells sound ahead of A-level results day Kate Green
Kate Green said the moderation process could disproportionally disadvantage students from deprived schools.

Teachers across Britain were asked to predict grades for students this year in place of end-of-year exams, but moderators in Scotland stepped in to reduce thousands of results over concerns of grade inflation. If the results had been based entirely on teacher estimates, pass rates at grades A-C would have increased by 10.4 percentage points for National 5, by 14 percentage points for Higher and by 13.4 percentage points for Advanced Higher.

SQA moderators lowered 125,000 results to bring pass rates at schools in-line with historical rates.

On average, the most deprived schools saw their A-C estimates reduced by more than 15%, from 85.1% to 69.9% of grades. Since 2016, A-C pass rates at this cluster of schools have ranged between 68.6% and 65.3%. The least deprived schools saw their A-C estimates reduced by nearly 7%, from 91.4% to 84.6% of grades. Since 2016, A-C pass rates at top quintile of schools have ranged between 83.9% and 81.7%.

Ms Green alleged that under this system – which will also be used to calculate next week’s A-level results in England – “students will be judged on their schools’ prior attainment and not on individual merit”.

NUS vice president (Further Education) Salsabil Elmegri echoed Ms Green’s comments and added: “Yesterday’s Highers results in Scotland should be a warning to the UK government – now they must act to protect students.”

The shadow education secretary called on her counterpart in government to commit more resources to support students in England who wish to use the appeals process to challenge their final A-level grades. She also warned that Black and Minority Ethnic students – as well as looked-after children, those in receipt of free school meals, and those with SEND – need reassurances from ministers that “inherent bias in the system” has not affected their results.

Having the right to appeal a result is natural justice. The appeals process this year is even more narrow than normal. Parents will take the action they feel they have to, and if that involves legal action that could happen. That is part of the frustration
Ian Power, Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference

Ms Elmegri said it was “very concerning” that the A-level appeals process does not “make it easy” for students to challenge “unfair results”.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Dr Martin Stephen, former high master of St Paul’s Boys’ School in London, said that the system was “imposing a life sentence on children, with no effective right of appeal”. Pupils in England are only allowed to appeal against results if they believe the moderation process has not been followed correctly and have “evidence of bias or discrimination”.

Ian Power, general secretary of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference, said: “Having the right to appeal a result is natural justice. The appeals process this year is even more narrow than normal. Parents will take the action they feel they have to, and if that involves legal action that could happen. That is part of the frustration.”

An Ofqual spokesperson said: “It is important that students understand their options, including the possibility of an appeal, if they do not receive the grade they expected.

“Students will be able to appeal, through their school or college, if they believe a mistake has been made or that something has gone wrong in their case.

“We are committed to helping students, and their families, understand the options available to them and will be publishing information on how appeals will operate this summer.”


Read more: Rise in confirmed places for Scottish students entering higher education

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