13th August 2020

College Sector Asks for Review of Grades

The Sixth Form Colleges Association (SFCA) and The Association of Colleges (AoC) have asked the Government to perform an urgent review of college A level results, BHASVIC will be working with these membership bodies to help contest some of today’s results.

Press Release from SFCA

survey of principals conducted by the Sixth Form Colleges Association yesterday has found huge variations between the exam grades predicted by teachers and the actual grades that students will receive today. 

96% of the sixth form college principals surveyed reported that overall, the actual grades students will receive today (known as calculated grades) were lower or much lower than the grades predicted by teachers (known as centre assessed grades). Despite following the guidelines for developing centre assessed grades, colleges reported that the government’s standardisation process had resulted in huge numbers of students receiving lower grades than expected, with some reporting that two thirds of their results had been downgraded.

More than a third of principals (34%) also indicated that their overall exam results for this year were below, and in some cases dramatically below, their historic exam performance. This comes despite a commitment from Ofqual, the exams regulator, that its standardisation process would be used “to ensure national results are broadly similar to previous years”. Some sixth form colleges reported that their exam results were the worst since records began, while others indicated that this year’s grades had reversed a trend of year on year improvement in performance. 

The survey also found that only 56% of colleges held mock exams for all students this year, meaning that a significant minority would not be able to use these results as part of the government’s recently announced ‘triple lock’ aimed at ensuring students are not disadvantaged by the calculated grades process.

Commenting on the survey findings, Bill Watkin, Chief Executive of the Sixth Form Colleges Association said:

“Our survey suggests that the government’s model for calculating this year's A level grades is flawed and unreliable. A fundamental objective of the process was to ensure year-on-year comparability in exam results – the very clear evidence from our members is that the standardisation model has utterly failed to achieve this. While the national picture is likely to show no significant overall change in grades awarded this year, this average figure masks huge variations. Our members, who between them deliver a quarter of the A levels sat in England each year, have experienced inexplicable variations. The only way the government can rescue this situation, and ensure that thousands of students are not disadvantaged, is to base results entirely on centre assessed grades – the predictions made by teachers. This is the only alternative to what has proved to be a failed experiment by the government to develop a fair process of standardisation”.

Press Release from the Association of Colleges

Association of Colleges has called for an urgent review into the A Level standardisation process as many colleges have over half their grades downgraded. You can find the full letter at the end of this email.

Responding to today's A Levels results and the downgrading of many student's grades, Association of Colleges' Chief Executive, David Hughes said:

“My congratulations go out to the many college students who will have received the results they deserve and need to successfully realise their ambitions. Thanks to their hard work and the efforts of college staff, most students will be able to progress to the next stage of their education despite all the disruption this year.  

However, we are deeply concerned that the adjustment process may have disadvantaged larger centres such as colleges and those with historically strong value added data. There seem to be inconsistencies across the board. While 39.1% of Centre Assessment Grades were adjusted down by one or more grade overall, we are hearing from a number of colleges that over 50% of their grades have been adjusted downwards. Colleges with large cohorts and very stable and predictable results over time are seeing their lowest grade profile ever, particularly at the higher grades, A to C. Because on average more disadvantaged students attend further education colleges this may have resulted in a systemic bias.

It is for this reason that I have written to the Education Secretary and the Chief Regulator of Ofqual this morning to ask for an urgent technical review into the A Level results standardisation process. If colleges, and subsequently many disadvantaged students have been hit by an unfair or inconsistent process then this needs to be investigated immediately – and adjustments made quickly. This should not be left to individual colleges or students having to use the appeals process.”

Letter to Gavin Williamson and Sally Collier 13.08.20

Dear Gavin and Sally,

I am writing to ask OfQual and DfE to launch and announce an urgent technical review into the A Level results standardisation process for larger centres.

Some of our members with larger numbers of A Level students, and often with students disproportionately from disadvantaged backgrounds are reporting to us some very worrying data. It would appear that the standardisation process may have been biased against larger centres and those with high value-added scores. The evidence that some colleges are reporting is that their higher grade passes (A to C) are much lower than their historic results, over the last 3 years. In other colleges the A to C pass rate has increased compared with historical data. That inconsistency is worrying. The overall pass rates are in line and do not seem to be such an issue. So this is not about over-optimistic assessed grades, it is about actual performance.

The algorithm has also potentially missed strong increases in performance in the last one or two years by a number of colleges. That is clearly something which would have been difficult to pick up in a process across thousands of centres. However, it would be very helpful for you to make clear the appeal process for colleges in that position and promise prompt consideration.

Our hypothesis is that the worrying results might be a quirk of the process, in which smaller centres with lower student numbers systematically had their centre assessed grades confirmed, resulting in a hit for the larger centres in order to minimise overall grade inflation. We also believe that the algorithm may not have taken value added data into account adequately.

A technical review now could examine that and would avert hundreds of colleges from having to make individual appeals. It would show that you are being transparent and taking the concerns seriously. It would allow the majority of students to focus on their next steps and move forward in confirming their HE places, apprenticeships or jobs but also offer a robust backstop. It would calm the mood and we would warmly welcome it and support you in carrying it out.

We will, of course, continue to encourage colleges and students to focus on progression and to be positive about the prospects of young people. It is clear that the majority of students will achieve the grades they need and want, but that is not sufficient for the process to be deemed fair if it has been systematically biased against college students and/or disadvantaged students.

We recognise fully that this is an exceptional year and have worked closely with DfE and OfQual officials, as well as with awarding organisations to support the approach taken. We are fully committed to working with you moving forwards to help ensure a resilient and robust system which we can all be confident in. But we cannot stand by when the evidence suggests that many thousands of students may have missed out on their grades because of a systemic bias.

I look forward to your prompt response.

Yours Sincerely,

David Hughes,
Chief Executive, Association of Colleges