Students sat exams this Summer after a two year hiatus due to COVID. These students, soon to receive their results, will be expecting results lower than the last two years as Ofqual transitions back to pre-pandemic results.
(Students in British schools overseas receive their results on the same day as students at school in the UK.)
It has not been a typical two years for students who have missed varying amounts of face to face teaching. So, the Dept for Education of the UK Government made some concessions in recognition of the disruption students have faced. Of course, this was done purely from a UK perspective where, in fact, students were not disadvantaged as much as in some other countries, especially Mainland China and Hong Kong.
Nevertheless, all students would hopefully have benefitted from a range of adaptations to (I)GCSE, AS, A and T level exams. These adaptations were intended to support students to reach their potential following the disruptions they’ve faced.
For example, for (I)GCSE, adaptions included:
A choice of topics or content in GCSE English literature, history, ancient history and geography.
Providing advance information on the focus of exams to support students’ revision in subjects where there is not a choice of topics.
Giving students formulae sheets in GCSE maths and revised equation sheets in GCSE combined science and physics.
Changing requirements for practical science work and practical art and design assessments.
For the past two years, since Summer exams haven’t been able to take place, students have been awarded grades by their teachers - Centre-assessed grades (CAGs) in 2020 and Teacher Assessed Grades (TAGs) in 2021. This led to massive grade inflation.
In 2020, 76% of GCSE entries scored a 4/C grade - considered a standard “pass” - or better in England, compared with 67.1% in 2019. For A-level grades, 87.5% of entries achieved A*-C grades, compared with 75.5% in 2019.
In 2021, grade inflation was even higher where 76.9% of entries scored a 4/C grade or better at GCSE and 88.2% achieving A*-C grades for A-levels.
Grade inflation was highest for the top grades. In A levels, the proportion of A/A* grades rose from 25.2% in 2019 to 44.3% in 2021. At GCSE, the increase wasn’t as severe, but the proportion of grades 7 and above rose from 20.7% in 2019 to 28.5% in 2021.
In 2020, grade inflation at A Levels was highest in independent schools. For the top A* and A grades, independent schools in England saw the greatest improvement compared with 2019 - up 4.7 percentage points. The BBC's education correspondent at the time, Sean Coughlan, described this as 'disgraceful'.
Back to Reality
For 2022 and a return to exams, we expect to see the grading pegged to a midpoint between 2021 and 2019 but below 2020.
Ofqual will be using 2022 as the first year in a “two-step return” to 2019 grade standards.
So, 2022 will be a transition year. The DofE puts it like this "to reflect that we are in a pandemic recovery period and students’ education has been disrupted. Yet, obviously Mainland China and Hong Kong is clearly still in the midst of the pandemic and students' education has been much more disrupted.
2022 results are likely to be higher than in 2019, but not as high as in 2020. Ofqual aims to return to results that are in line with pre-pandemic years in 2023.
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