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Why pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds will suffer most after cancelled GCSE and a-level exams

EMBARGOED TO 2200 FRIDAY JULY 10 File photo dated 07/03/12 of a general view of pupils sitting an exam. Pupils could miss out on the exam results they deserve this summer as the system risks being

Pupils could miss out on the exam results they deserve this summer as the system risks being “unfair” for disadvantaged students, MPs have warned
(Picture: PA)

Pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds will suffer the most after cancelled summer exams, MPs have warned.

With GCSE and A-level examinations scrapped due to the coronavirus pandemic, pupils will be awarded calculated grades based on teacher assessments.

According to the Commons Education Select Committee report, England’s exams regulator’s process for allowing students to appeal their grades if they believe discrimination has occurred is not accessible for all students.

This has prompted concerns that poorer pupils, black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) students, and children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) ‘could be disadvantaged’ by calculated grades – especially in light of research evidence on unconscious bias.

epa08519405 Students sit at desks with plastic sheets set up to ensure social distancing during the first day of school, with nmeasures to prevent the spread of coronavirus, at Wat Pichai School in Bangkok, Thailand, 01 July 2020. Thai schools nationwide reopened on 01 July 2020 but will maintain some restrictions such as social distancing and the use of face masks. EPA/RUNGROJ YONGRIT

Unlike so many in the UK, Thai schools nationwide reopened on 01 July 2020 but will maintain some restrictions such as social distancing (Picture: EPA)

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The report calls for pupils with SEND to be able to appeal results on the basis of malpractice if appropriate access arrangements were not in place for the work used to calculate their grade.

The MPs also say disadvantaged pupils, and those without family resources or wider support, ‘risk being shut out’ of the appeals system which is likely to favour more affluent students.

Individual pupils are not able to challenge teacher-assessed grades or rank order – but a school can appeal to the exam board if it believes it made an error when submitting a grade, or if it believes an exam board made a mistake.

Ofqual has said it expects exam boards to investigate evidence of ‘serious malpractice’ raised by pupils who have concerns about bias or discrimination surrounding teacher-assessed grades and rank order.

The MPs say: ‘We are extremely concerned that pupils will require evidence of bias or discrimination to raise a complaint about their grades. It is unrealistic and unfair to put the onus on pupils to have, or to be able to gather, evidence of bias or discrimination.’

On the grading system, committee chairman Robert Halfon said: ‘There is a risk it will lead to unfair bias and discrimination against already disadvantaged groups and we are far from convinced that the appeal system, which will be more important than ever this year, will be fair.

‘The appeals process seems to favour the well-heeled and sharp-elbowed and there is the potential for the system to resemble the Wild West of appeals with different systems used by different exam boards.’

Young multi-ethnic female university students writing on papers at desks during exams in community college classroom

Pupils will be awarded calculated grades based on teacher assessments
(Picture: Getty)

Students in England who are unhappy with teacher-assessed grades, or who are unable to receive a calculated grade this summer, can take A-level exams in October and GCSE exams in November.

But the committee has called for the Department for Education (DfE) to provide guidance for schools and colleges, outlining the minimum requirements for teaching support for pupils opting for an exam.

The Government should also extend its £1 billion catch-up funding to include disadvantaged post-16 pupils in colleges and schools to ‘ensure this is not a lost generation,’ the MPs said.

‘The pandemic’s impact on learning loss does not stop when pupils turn 16. Post-16 learners, whether they are resitting key English and Maths GCSEs, or preparing to sit final exams before entering higher education or the workplace, deserve proper catch-up support,’ the report adds.

Mr Halfon added: ‘The lack of guaranteed support from the DfE for pupils and students doing autumn exams means there isn’t a level playing field for those students. The absence of a post-16 catch-up fund exacerbates these problems.’

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: ‘Schools and colleges are utterly opposed to discrimination, and have done everything possible to guard against any hint of unconscious bias. They have gone about the task of deciding centre-assessed grades in extraordinarily difficult circumstances and with the utmost diligence.’

An Ofqual spokesman said: ‘The standardisation model is a critical tool to make sure standards are aligned between centres and will ensure that national results this summer are broadly similar to previous years.

‘We have extensively tested the model to ensure it gives students the fairest, most accurate results possible and, so far as possible, that students are not advantaged or disadvantaged on the basis of their socioeconomic background or particular protected characteristics, and we will evaluate outcomes.

‘We agree that students, their parents, carers and teachers need to understand how their results have been calculated and we have committed to publishing full details of the model in due course.’

A Department for Education spokesperson said: ‘The vast majority of students will receive a calculated grade this summer that enables them to move on to the next stage of their education or training.

‘Ofqual has developed a robust process that will take into account a range of evidence, including non-exam assessment and mock results, with the primary aim of ensuring grades are as fair as possible for all students.

‘If students are unhappy with their grade, they will have the opportunity to sit an exam in the autumn – or to appeal it through their school or college if they believe a process error has been made.’

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