Pupils could miss out on the exam results they deserve this summer as the system risks being ‘unfair’ for disadvantaged students, MPs have warned.
The Commons Education Select Committee report said England’s exams regulator’s process for allowing students to appeal their grades if they believe discrimination has occurred is not accessible for all students.
With this summer’s exams cancelled because of the Covid-19 pandemic, GCSE and A-level students will be awarded calculated grades based on teacher assessment.
But the committee said it was ‘concerned’ that poorer pupils, black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) students, and children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) ‘could be disadvantaged’ by calculated grades – especially in light of research evidence on unconscious bias.
The report calls for pupils with SEND to be able to appeal results on the basis of malpractice if appropriate access arrangements were not in place for the work used to calculate their grade.
The MPs also say disadvantaged pupils, and those without family resources or wider support, ‘risk being shut out’ of the appeals system which is likely to favour more affluent students.
Individual pupils will not be allowed to challenge teacher-assessed grades or rank order – but a school can appeal to the exam board if it believes it made an error when submitting a grade, or if it believes an exam board made a mistake.
Ofqual has said it expects exam boards to investigate evidence of ‘serious malpractice’ raised by pupils who have concerns about bias or discrimination surrounding teacher-assessed grades and rank order.
But the MPs say: ‘We are extremely concerned that pupils will require evidence of bias or discrimination to raise a complaint. It is unrealistic and unfair to put the onus on pupils to have, or to be able to gather, evidence of bias or discrimination.’
Committee chairman Robert Halfon added: “There is a risk that the grading system will lead to unfair bias and discrimination against already disadvantaged groups and we are far from convinced that the appeal system will be fair.
“It seems to favour the well-heeled and sharp-elbowed and there is the potential for the system to resemble the ‘Wild West’ of appeals, with different systems used by different exam boards.”
It is hoped that students in England who are unhappy with teacher-assessed grades, or who are unable to receive a calculated grade this summer, will be able to take A-level exams in October and GCSE exams in November.
But the committee has called for the Department for Education (DfE) to provide guidance for schools and colleges, outlining the minimum requirements for teaching support for pupils opting for an exam.
The Government should also extend its £1 billion catch-up funding to include disadvantaged post-16 pupils in colleges and schools to ‘ensure this is not a lost generation’, the MPs said.
‘The pandemic’s impact on learning loss does not stop when pupils turn 16. Post-16 learners deserve proper catch-up support,’ the report says.
Mr Halfon added: “The lack of guaranteed support from the DfE for pupils and students doing autumn exams means there isn’t a level playing field for those students.”
“The absence of a post-16 catch-up fund exacerbates these problems.”
Picture: A general view of pupils sitting an exam. (David Jones/PA).