ROTA’s statement on the 2020 A-Level Results

Ever since GCSEs and A levels were cancelled due to the Corona virus lockdown, concerns have been raised about the fairness of replacing them with teacher predicted grades.

Pupils from certain race and ethnicities are often given underpredicted grades for ‘A’ Levels, and since April, ROTA along with other race equality organisations such as Runnymede Trust, the Traveller Movement, and Friends, Families, and Travellers have tried to influence the process of grading and assessments, to ensure equalities considerations are taken into account.

Whilst we were concerned that the Centre Assessment Grades (CAG) calculated for students from BAME backgrounds would be underpredicted, Ofqual were more concerned with overcompensation by means of over-prediction.

On the day that A level results were released it was revealed that 39% of Centre Assessment Grades (CAG) submitted by schools and colleges to the exam board have been ‘down-graded’ by the standardisation process adopted by Ofqual. This is likely to have had an adversely disproportionate impact on BAME and socio-economically disadvantaged pupils.

We are disappointed at the lack of engagement by DfE throughout the process and the lack of consideration for the equality impact of the decisions that were being made regarding the exceptional arrangements for exam grading and assessments.

This was evident with Gavin Williamson’s announcement yesterday about the ‘triple lock’. The decision to enable pupils to use their mock exam results to make an appeal appears to be a haphazard decision that has not been equality impact assessed and therefore raises questions about its compliance with the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED).

Ofqual have been widely engaging with stakeholders, including race equality organisations to consider the equality impact of the decisions that were being made regarding the exceptional arrangements for exam grading and assessments.

However, we are not convinced that Ofqual have taken sufficient measures to mitigate any adversely disproportionate impact on BAME pupils.

We are disappointed that Ofqual have been more concerned about maintaining the status quo, which entrench inequalities, rather than taking steps to address bias within the system.

The standardisation process adopted by Ofqual ensures that the exam grades this year are broadly in line with exam grades from previous years across the different centres. This approach disadvantages pupils from socio-economically deprived areas, and advantages those who are from affluent areas. ROTA has been urging Ofqual to use the grades from previous years, disaggregated by race and ethnicity, in the standardisation process to address systemic bias in the way Centre Assessment Grades are calculated. This approach would have helped tackle systemic bias within schools and colleges, but this approach to standardisation was not adopted.

Since April 2020 we have made a series of recommendations to both DfE and Ofqual on measures that needed to be taken to consider the equality impact and to take steps to mitigate any disproportionate impact on BAME pupils. Whilst Ofqual have taken on board some of our recommendations, we are disappointed with the lack of engagement by DfE. We hope that going forward the government will have due regard to the equality impact of the appeals process, as well as the process that will be put in place for pupils who are due to sit their exams next year.