Colleges demand urgent review into “biased” A-level grading process

The Association of Colleges has written to education secretary Gavin Williamson and Ofqual chief regulator Sally Collier calling for an “urgent” review into the standardisation process used for A-level results from larger centres.

David Hughes, the association’s chief executive, writes in the letter it appears some colleges with larger numbers of A-level students have been “biased” against by the process, which was rolled out after exams were cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

While the majority of students will achieve the grades they need and want, the association has heard from a number of colleges that over 50 per cent of their grades have been adjusted downwards.

Certain colleges have said their higher grade passes (meaning A to C) are much lower than their results from the last three years, whereas others have said the rate of A to C grades has increased compared to historical data, in what Hughes calls a “worrying inconsistency”.

“We cannot stand by when the evidence suggests that many thousands of students may have missed out on their grades because of a systemic bias.”

After A-level exams were cancelled this year, colleges were required to submit centre-assessed grades of what results pupils were most likely to achieve, which were then standardised nationally.

The inconsistency, Hughes suggests, could be due to a “quirk” in the process in which smaller centres with lower student numbers had their centre-assessed grades confirmed, so larger centres took a hit to minimise overall grade inflation. The algorithm has also “potentially” missed strong increases in performance in the last one or two years by “a number of colleges”, the letter continues.

Hughes added that colleges’ overall pass rates are in line and do not seem to be such an issue, so the problem is not “overoptimistic” assessed grades, but actual performance.

A technical review, he told Williamson and Collier, could now “avert hundreds of colleges from having to make individual appeals”.

“It would show that you are being transparent and taking the concerns seriously. It would allow the majority of students to focus on their next steps and move forward in confirming their HE places, apprenticeships or jobs, but also offer a robust backstop.”

Read David Hughes’ full letter to Gavin Williamson and Sally Collier HERE