Today’s big question

Is the UK heading for a second exam fiasco?

Plans for grading GSCEs and A-levels give rise to fear of ‘extremely high grade inflation’

Anyone who remembers the A-level chaos of 2020 may be pleased by the news that grading this year will be done using a different approach. But plans to give teachers sweeping powers to hand out marks have led to another set of concerns among experts.

Grades this year will be decided by schools “using a combination of mock exams, coursework and essays” because of the disruption to learning caused by school closures, the BBC reports.

“Optional assessments set by exam boards for all subjects” will also be introduced, the broadcaster adds, “but they will not be taken in exam conditions nor decide final grades”. Results will also be published earlier in August to allow for student appeals.

The decision to put grading in the hands of schools comes after last year’s “debacle” when the plan to use an algorithm developed by Ofqual to award grades “was swiftly overturned after protests”, The Guardian says.

It follows a public consultation led by Ofqual that “received over 100,000 submissions, with more than half coming from students, reflecting huge interest in how A-levels and GCSEs would be awarded this year”, the paper adds.

Schools minister Nick Gibb told BBC Breakfast that the government has devised “the best system possible” to “ensure there is consistency and fairness in how teachers submit grades for their students”. 

But the Education Policy Institute (EPI) think tank has warned that the plans risk “extremely high grade inflation”. As no national guidelines have been set, the only check on grade inflation will be at school level, with exam boards asked by Ofqual to police marks through random sampling.

In a statement, EPI chief executive Natalie Perera said: “There is a very high risk that we will see inconsistencies in the grades among different pupils and schools,” adding that “without timely and detailed guidance” schools could provide grades “of little value to colleges, universities, employers and young people themselves”.

Questioned about fears of grade inflation, Gibb said that the government will put in place “different checking mechanisms” to ensure “consistency”. He said the plan is to try to ensure “fairly awarded grades at a time when we don’t think it’s fair for [students] to sit the exams in the normal way”.

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