Harlow MP Robert Halfon leads questioning of Ofqual over this year’s exam grading

Education: Secondary / Thu 3rd Sep 2020 at 06:27am

THE cross-party Education Select Committee, chaired by Harlow MP Robert Halfon, questioned Ofqual representatives this morning on the events and decision-making around this year’s exam results for GCSE, A Level students and technical/vocational qualifications.

Following the resignation of Ofqual’s Chief Regulator, Sally Collier, the Chair of Ofqual, Roger Taylor, appeared before the House of Commons Committee as a witness, alongside the Executive Director for Risk, Strategy and Research, Dr Michelle Meadows, the Executive Director for General Qualifications, Julie Swan and the new interim Chief Regulator, Dame Glenys Stacey.

Questions centred around the overall responsibility for decision-making about the final awarded grades, as well as the testing of the algorithm that was used in the “standardisation model” devised by Ofqual to issue results. Before the final decision was taken to award A Level and GCSE students their teachers’ centre-assessed grades (CAGs), the standardisation model operated to adjust grades awarded by schools and colleges, in an effort to achieve fairness nationally and maintain standards. The Ofqual Chair, Roger Taylor, confirmed to the Committee that it was Ofqual who had final decision-making powers in developing the algorithm.

In its report on exams published on 7 July 2020, the Education Committee warned of the potential for unfairness to certain institutions in the standardisation model, and stated that: “Ofqual must be completely transparent about its standardisation model and publish the model immediately to allow time for scrutiny” from the public.” Ofqual did not publish details of the model until the day of A Level results on 13 August 2020.

In a statement from the Chair of Ofqual sent to the Committee late last night, Ofqual stated that the standardisation model algorithm disadvantaged certain larger institutions, such as sixth form and FE colleges – institutions which are more likely to educate those from lower socio-economic backgrounds. When Mr Taylor acknowledged in the session this morning that, “We did know about [this issue]” but did not correct the advantage to certain institutions, Mr Halfon concluded: “What you seem to be illustrating is sort of a ‘charge of the light brigade’ mentality. You knew there were anomalies and yet you carried on regardless”.

Mr Halfon also expressed concern that 450,000 BTEC students were so greatly affected by the delay in receiving their results and expressed that “the day that [Ofqual made the U-turn announcement on using teachers’ centre-assessed grades as the final A Level and GCSE results], BTECs were almost like an afterthought”. He challenged Ofqual as to whether they “took their eye off the ball” and successfully sought an apology to BTEC students from the Chair of Ofqual on the delays.

The Chair of the Education Committee challenged Ofqual on their communications in the lead up to exam results, and said that Ofqual’s “refusal to engage with the media and schools” was “genuinely shocking” and did very little to alleviate parents’ and students’ concerns.

MPs also asked Ofqual to confirm arrangements for next year’s exams and publish minutes of all meetings with Ministers from the Department for Education, in the interest of transparency.

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