Ministers have been warned over a “Wild West” grading system this summer with MPs demanding concessions to ensure a “level playing field” for students.

The education select committee has warned Gavin Williamson his exams replacement plan risks being “too inconsistent”.

Robert Halfon, the committee’s chair, said this was down to a lack of standardised assessments and “impartial assessors to provide the checks and balances to guarantee fairness”.

The eight-page letter also demands the Department for Education sets out any reductions in cash that schools and colleges should expect on their exam fees.

FE Week’s sister title FE Week revealed earlier this year that boards had increased entry prices, despite exams not going ahead.

The intervention from the committee comes after schools minister Nick Gibb and Ofqual officials were grilled by MPs earlier this month.

Williamson has been asked to respond by April 12 so MPs can consider the response “once we return from the Easter recess”.

DfE and Ofqual have been approached for comment.


Here is what MPs are demanding…

1. Exam boards should provide a “clear” minimum requirement to schools and colleges relating to the coverage of the syllabus in each subject to address lost learning concerns. MPs have asked for clarity on what would happen to pupils that don’t meet this requirement, but suggested repeating the course could be a solution. This would ensure a grade “stands on its merit”.

2. Officials must explain how it will be possible for leaders to make clear judgements on whether a student has been taught “sufficient content”. MPs also want assurances on how these grades will be consistent across the country given the different levels of lost learning.

3. Ofqual needs to reveal the scale of the sampling it expects exam boards to do during the external quality assurance process.

4. Publishing external test papers after Easter will “devalue their worth” and be a distraction to students.

5. Clarity on what past performance data schools and colleges will have to submit to exam boards to verify teacher assessments.

6. DfE should set out what, if any, work it undertook to look at how grades might be moderated at a subject level by sending “external assessors” in.

7. Ofqual and exam boards put measures in place to guard against conscious or unconscious bias “creeping into teacher assessments”. MPs also want “checks and balances” to ensure no teachers “feels obliged or … pressured to downplay grades owing to a fear their judgment could call into question their students’ overall results”.

8. DfE must “remain ready” to step in with support for private candidates where they have difficulties, if they do not have an “established relationship with an exam centre”.

9. “Full confirmation” that exam board papers will be offered to students on request, if they wish to do them.

10. DfE should indicate what it thinks would be a “reasonable” reduction in fees charged by exam boards. FE Week revealed boards had increased entry prices, despite exams not going ahead. But boards have since backed down – saying schools and colleges can delay making payments.

11. Plans should be in place in case of a high volume of appeals this year “as parents and pupils seek speculatively to challenge grades”.

12. DfE needs to reveal its “route map” back to “normal” grades, with Halfon warning of “ever-increasing grade inflation” that would be “absolutely no benefit or value to anyone”.

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