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SFCA survey suggests process for calculating this year's A level grades is "flawed and unreliable"

SFCA survey suggests process for calculating this year's A level grades is "flawed and unreliable"

survey of principals conducted by the Sixth Form Colleges Association yesterday has found huge variations between the exam grades predicted by teachers and the actual grades that students will receive today. 

96% of the sixth form college principals surveyed reported that overall, the actual grades students will receive today (known as calculated grades) were lower or much lower than the grades predicted by teachers (known as centre assessed grades). Despite following the guidelines for developing centre assessed grades, colleges reported that the government’s standardisation process had resulted in huge numbers of students receiving lower grades than expected, with some reporting that two thirds of their results had been downgraded.

More than a third of principals (34%) also indicated that their overall exam results for this year were below, and in some cases dramatically below, their historic exam performance. This comes despite a commitment from Ofqual, the exams regulator, that its standardisation process would be used “to ensure national results are broadly similar to previous years”. Some sixth form colleges reported that their exam results were the worst since records began, while others indicated that this year’s grades had reversed a trend of year on year improvement in performance. 

The survey also found that only 56% of colleges held mock exams for all students this year, meaning that a significant minority would not be able to use these results as part of the government’s recently announced ‘triple lock’ aimed at ensuring students are not disadvantaged by the calculated grades process.

Commenting on the survey findings, Bill Watkin, Chief Executive of the Sixth Form Colleges Association said:

“Our survey suggests that the government’s model for calculating this year's A level grades is flawed and unreliable. A fundamental objective of the process was to ensure year-on-year comparability in exam results – the very clear evidence from our members is that the standardisation model has utterly failed to achieve this. While the national picture is likely to show no significant overall change in grades awarded this year, this average figure masks huge variations. Our members, who between them deliver a quarter of the A levels sat in England each year, have experienced inexplicable variations. The only way the government can rescue this situation, and ensure that thousands of students are not disadvantaged, is to base results entirely on centre assessed grades – the predictions made by teachers. This is the only alternative to what has proved to be a failed experiment by the government to develop a fair process of standardisation”.

More information

  1. The Sixth Form Colleges Association is the established voice of dedicated sixth form education and the hub of a national network of sixth form providers.
  2.  SFCA sent the online survey to its 106 members on 12th August 2020, and the principals of 81 institutions completed the survey - a response rate of 78%. These 81 institutions have around 75,000 students receiving exam results this year.
  3. Our members deliver a quarter of the A levels sat in England each year.
  4. For more information please contact James Kewin at the Sixth Form Colleges Association: 07887 990120
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