Today, the Runnymede Trust has written an open letter to the Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson MP, calling for urgent action to ensure robust and fair outcomes for the poorest and BME students in light of the cancellation of A Levels and GCSEs this summer.
Tuesday 12th January 2021
Dear Gavin Williamson MP,
We are writing today to express our concern about alternative arrangements made for students in light of the cancellation of GCSEs and A Levels this summer.
Following the Government’s announcement that final grades will be determined by a form of teacher-assessed grades, we are asking the Government to act now to ensure that grades are awarded fairly to the most disadvantaged students.
Last year’s attempts to find an alternative approach to exam results resulted in distress for students, many of whom were initially denied the grades that they deserved via an algorithm, weighted by teacher-predicted grades and the school’s overall performance over the previous three years. In 2020, we saw attainment gaps widen in schools across Britain. This must not happen again, and action must be taken to ensure that alternative arrangements set by Ofqual are fair.
There is significant evidence to suggest that students from lower socio-economic backgrounds stand at a particular disadvantage by a system of predicted grades. Well-evidenced research conducted by Gill Wyness (2020), illustrates that poorer students are more likely to be underpredicted at A-Level.
BME students, including those from Gypsy, Roma and Irish Traveller backgrounds, are some of the poorest in the country and stand at a particular risk to underpredicted grades. Over a quarter of black and minority students are on free school meals and likely to be disproportionately impacted by the cancellation of exams. A 2011 study carried out by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills found that only 39.1% Black applicants were given accurate predicted grades by their teachers, in comparison to 53% of their white counterparts.
Furthermore, a 2017 report by the Sutton Trust showed that the poorest pupils, from low-income families received lower predicted grades than wealthier ones. With child poverty rates for BME groups of children standing at 60% for Bangladeshi children, 54% for Pakistani children and 47% for Black children, there are particular concerns for the prediction of these grades.
In the absence of exam papers or standardised mock exams, we urge the Government to take the following steps to ensure robust and fair outcomes for the poorest and BME students. This means:
There are currently 1.22 million children in this country who are unable to access online learning. Evidence from the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) demonstrated that the progress for BAME students had regressed since the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis. Urgent action must now be taken to ensure that every child has access to the broadband and devices that they need for their schoolwork, and that schools are providing all of their pupils with necessary contact time with their teachers.
We recognise the huge pressures faced by teachers and schools at this time and commend the heroic work that they are doing in the face of a global pandemic. We are asking the Government to act now to ensure that no student is left behind when school gates are closed during the Covid-19 crisis, and to take the necessary steps for a fair system in the absence of exams this summer.
The Runnymede Trust
Maurice Mcleod - Race on the Agenda
Simon Woolley - OBV
Kunle Olulode - V4CE
Dr Vivienne Lyfar-Cissé - NHS BME Network
Charles Kwaku Odoi - Caribbean and African Health Network
Patricia Stapleton - Traveller Movement
Robina Qureshi - Positive Action in Housing
Professor David Gillborn - University of Birmingham
Andrew Brown - Croydon BME Forum
Professor Kalwant Bhopal, Director - Centre for Research in Race and Education, University of Birmingham.
Mushtaq Khan - BME National
Sarah Mann - Friends, Families and Travellers
Professor Vini Lander - Director of the Centre for Race, Education and Decoloniality, Carnegie School of Education
Dr Remi Joseph-Salisbury - Presidential Fellow in Sociology, University of Manchester
Kahiye Alim - Council of Somali Organisations
Dr Paul Warmington - University of Warwick