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Misleading A level claims debunked

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: A Level, Myth busting, Universities


In our blog today we examine more closely some of the claims made about yesterday's A level results.

Claim: 40% of pupils had their grades downgraded.

This misleading claim has been made in several places, including on the Today Programme on BBC Radio 4. The grades that schools and colleges suggested that their students should receive were only ever intended to be one part of the process of determining grades – which would then be standardised to make sure that grades were fair for students across different schools and colleges and in relation to previous years. The circumstances this year meant that schools and colleges did not have the opportunity to develop a common approach to grading in advance, so it is likely that some centres will be more generous in their judging, and others more severe. It would not have been fair to allow those that were most generous to get an unfair advantage over others. This is why 39% of the grades submitted by teachers were standardised to produce final calculated grades. This is not “downgrading” but an essential part of the model that was widely consulted on. Overall A level results are up compared to last year (by 2.5ppt at grades A and A*), and in 96% of cases grades were the same as submitted by teachers or were just one grade different.

 Claim: The Government doesn’t trust teachers

This claim has been made widely and is fundamentally untrue. The grading system this year puts teachers at the centre of the process – they know their students best so we asked them to set out the grades they think pupils would have got if exams had gone head and in 60% of cases these have ended up being the grades students were given, and in 96% of cases they were the same grade or just one grade different. So their centre assessment grades were an integral part of the whole process.

Claim: The standardisation model was introduced by the Government without consultation

This claim is wrong on two levels. The standardisation model was devised by Ofqual, the independent exams regulator. Furthermore, Ofqual consulted widely on it, receiving well over 12,000 responses – 78 of which were from groups identifying as a 'teacher representative group or union'. More than 1,000 came from schools or colleges and almost 4,000 came from teachers. Several of the major teachers unions publicly supported the model.

Claim: the standardisation model disproportionately affects pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds

Overall, Ofqual’s analysis shows that the standardisation model, which itself doesn’t differentiate between different types of school, affects all socio-economic backgrounds at broadly the same level.

The claims are based on data that shows that at grades C and above the cumulative difference between final grades and grades suggested by teachers for pupils of lower socio-economic status was 10.4 percentage points, for those from medium socio-economic status it was 9.5 percentage points and for those of higher socio-economic status it was 8.3 percentage points. Although these do indicate that pupils from lower socio economic backgrounds are slightly more likely to have a difference between the grade proposed by their teachers their final grades at C and above, the difference is small and at A* and A pupils from lower socio economic groups were actually less likely to have their teacher grade adjusted. This is entirely different from the situation in Scotland which saw disadvantaged pupils grades changed significantly more than their peers.

But more importantly, the extent to which pupils’ final grades differ from the grades their teachers proposed is the wrong thing to be looking at. The standardisation model treated all pupils in the same way – it did not differentiate against those from different socio-economic backgrounds .The important thing is that Ofqual has made clear that the attainment gap in final grades between disadvantaged pupils and their peers has remained stable this year, showing that no group of students has been disproportionately disadvantaged by the process. 

Not only have UCAS confirmed that more students than last year have had places confirmed on their first choice course, more pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds have also been accepted into universities this year than ever before, up 7.3% from last year.

 Claim: pupils this year will be thought of differently to other years

This suggests that standardisation means this year's results are invalid compared to other years. Precisely the opposite is true. Standardisation seeks not only to make sure results are comparable between schools and colleges but between years. Without it, 38% of grades would have been A or A*. This would be a 12 percentage point inflation and could devalue results for this cohort in the eyes of universities and employers. That would have a disastrous effect on these students. We have been clear throughout this process that further education, higher education and employers will see these as valid grades, the same as exam results in any other years.

Claim: The appeals process hasn’t been set out yet

Ofqual has set out the appeals process and further updated it earlier this month. It will also be setting out further details very shortly of how mock exams could be used by students in appeals as part of our triple lock system that will give students the safety net of being able to rely on a valid mock or to sit an exam in the autumn if they feel their result isn’t a fair reflection of what they can do.

Claim: Grades could go down as the result of an appeal

As Ofqual has set out, this is categorically untrue: as there is grade protection this year, no grades will go down as a result of an appeal.

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