Joint Open Letter: GCSE and A-Level Cancellation Arrangements


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:

  • Provide teachers and schools with guidance on how to undertake Equality Impact Assessments of final grade predictions. This could include providing schools with the tools to disaggregate their data on predicted grades on the basis of ethnicity, gender, SEN status and other protected characteristics groups.
  • Require teachers to contextualise the grades that they predict, by flagging the disadvantages faced by students during the Covid-19 pandemic (including access to digital devices), as recommended by Professor Lee Elliott Major at the University of Exeter.
  • 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.
  • Require all Higher Education Institutions 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.

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.

Yours sincerely,

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

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