Race Matters

Open Letter: Predicted grades & BME students

Runnymede and others wrote to the Education Secretary amid concerns that certain groups, including BME students, may lose out due to existing racial disparities when predicted grades are accepted in place of exam results. See the full letter and list of signatories below; the open letter first appeared in the Times Education Supplement (TES) online.


Dear Rt Hon Gavin Williamson,

Re: Covid-19 Cancellation of GCSEs, As and A levels in 2020

We hope this letter finds you well amidst the ongoing Covid-19 crisis. 

The Runnymede Trust is a leading national race equality think tank which was founded in 1968. We look to continually shine a light on racial inequalities within the UK through intelligence led research and policy engagement.

We are writing to you today with regards to the alternative arrangements which are being made for students’ final grades in light of the cancellation of GCSEs, AS and A levels. As the government announced almost two weeks ago (March 20), final exam grades are now likely to be based on teacher assessments and prior attainment, working closely with Ofqual (the independent qualifications regulator) to ensure that the final predicted grades are the result of a fair and robust process. 

While we are aware that the Department for Education, schools and Ofqual are doing their best to create a fair predicted grading system, we are concerned that students from lower socio-economic backgrounds (particularly higher attaining students from lower SES backgrounds) are more likely to have their final grades under-predicted compared to higher attaining students from more advantaged backgrounds, and that this will be exacerbated during the Covid-19 crisis. This is based on well-evidenced and robust research by Dr Gill Wyness, and is also reflected on the Department’s own website. 

Given that well over a quarter of black and minority ethnic (BME) GCSE students (including much higher proportions of Gypsy, Roma and Irish Traveller students) are on Free School Meals, we are concerned that this issue of under-predictions in grades for students from lower socio-economic backgrounds will impact on BME students disproportionately. We are also aware that “teachers expectations of black students and their working class peers tend to be systematically lower than warranted by their performance in class” as highlighted by Professor David Gillborn and others.

While the Covid-19 crisis has meant that we are working in exceptional circumstances, we believe it is important for the Department for Education and Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) to additionally undertake the following measures in order to ensure a fair, transparent and robust system which will more accurately reflect the ability and attainment of students from different backgrounds: 

Provide teachers with more guidance and support on how to ensure more accurate predictions in order to reduce inconsistencies across schools and pupils
Provide teachers and schools with guidance on how to undertake Equality Impact Assessments of final grade predictions. This could involve schools disaggregating final predicted grades by protected characteristics, as well as SEN in order to monitor and reduce inconsistencies across different groups of pupils.

We would also urge university admissions to consider carefully ‘contextualised admissions’ criteria in order to ensure that students from lower socio-economic backgrounds do not lose out from the opportunity to attend more selective universities, with a  view to meeting the admissions targets set in their Access and Participation Plans.

And finally, we would recommend that OfS requires all HEIs to monitor and report on offers made on the back of school predictions by ethnic and gender group to check for any bias at the point of admissions.

We want to thank you and your Government for all that you are doing to navigate this country through these extraordinary and challenging times. We know that the task of attributing grades to students in light of cancelled exams will not be an easy one for teachers and schools. We hope that our recommendations will be received in the spirit of helping schools and universities to achieve a fairer and more robust system in student assessment.

Yours sincerely,


Dr Zubaida Haque, Deputy Director, The Runnymede Trust

Jeremy Crook, Chief Executive, Black Training and Enterprise Group

Kunle Olulode, Director, Voice for Change

Andy Gregg, Chief Executive, Race on the Agenda

Sarah Mann, Director, Friends, Families and Travellers

Lord Simon Woolley, Director, Operation Black Vote

Kahiye Alim, Director, Council of Somali Organisations

Mushtaq Khan, BMENational

Yvonne McNamara, CEO, Traveller Movement

Atiha Chaudry, Manchester and Greater Manchester BME Networks

Dr Nicola Rollock, Associate Professor, Goldsmith University

Professor David Gillborn, Birmingham University

Professor Kalwant Bhopal, Birmingham University

Professor Vicki Boliver, Durham University

Professor Vini Lander, Leeds-Beckett University

Miss Rachel C Boyle, Edge Hill University

Ms Annette Hayton, Senior Research Fellow, Bath University

Professor Paul Warmington, Warwick University

Dr Gill Wyness, Institute of Education, University College London

Dr Remi Joseph-Salisbury, University of Manchester

Dr Reza Gholami, Birmingham University

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