Creating a system that’s fair for all

In any normal year this week would mark the last full week of the summer school term. But this is no ordinary year.

philip_blaker.png By Philip Blaker, Chief Executive, Qualifications Wales 

The closure of schools and cancellation of GCSE and A level exams due to COVID-19 means that we have all had to quickly adapt to circumstances we couldn’t have imagined 

Our immediate task as a regulator was to find a way to ensure the learners who were due to sit their exams this year receive a fair set of grades for their qualifications. 

Working with WJEC, we’ve devised a three-stage approach to calculate this year’s results, which brings together a combination of information from schools about their learners and a statistical method of standardisation 

It starts with teachers establishing a Centre Assessment Grade (CAG), and rank order, in each subject for each learner – this is their estimate of the grade that the learner would most likely have achieved had they sat the exams.  

This information was submitted to WJEC who have developed standardisation models for each qualification. These models are designed to provide a fair set of subject grades for each centre using historic performance, adjusted for the ability of this year’s cohort. These grades are then allocated to learners using the centre’s rank order. This follows the aims that we consulted on recently and allows for standards to be maintained across years and between centres. 

This process of standardisation is particularly important as there was no time to train teachers, so there was a real risk that teachers might be using slightly different standards when determining CAGs – leading to them being too generous or too harsh. 

This is new for all of us and in particular a challenging task for teachers, who have been asked to do something quite different from previous years. I would like to take this opportunity to thank them for their work. 

The standardisation models are currently being finalised and agreed, and we will soon be reviewing the outputs to ensure that results are ‘broadly similar’ to previous years. 

This is essential so that everyone – including employers and those involved in higher or further education – can be confident that this year’s results carry the same currency as any other year. 

There’s been a lot of comment in the media in England and in the teaching press about CAGs being inflated and a recognition of the work that the standardisation model will have to do to ensure that there’s a level playing field – both over years and between centres. 

This won’t be unique to England and we expect that this is a cross-UK phenomenon. It isn’t surprising or unexpected given the exceptional circumstances and pressures, which is exactly why there is a clear need for standardisation as the only mechanism to promote fairness. In the end, teachers will want their learners to take forward grades that aren’t questioned for being too generous or harsh.  

We will continue to work hard so that calculated grades are as fair as they can be in the circumstances, and we will share further information, including more detail on the standardisation process, in the weeks running up to the results in August. Do keep following us on social media for the latest updates, which are also published on our website. 

Published 16 July 2020