Nearly 40% of A-level assessments by teachers were downgraded by the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation’s algorithm, according to official figures published on Thursday morning. The method for allocating results was used because students could not be assessed during the coronavirus lockdown.
Curtis Parfitt-Ford, an A-level student at a comprehensive school in Ealing, supported by Foxglove, a non-profit that campaigns against misuse of digital technology, has demanded that Ofqual correct defects in its grading algorithm or potentially be taken to court.
In a legal letter sent to both Ofqual and the DfE, the algorithm was described as unfair and potentially discriminatory because it graded the school, not the student.
Parfitt-Ford said his peers deserved better than to be graded by a postcode lottery. He said: “I’m very conscious that something which works as a good system for me as someone who goes to a west London comprehensive school, with some of the best teachers I could possibly ask for and a great academic history, is probably not representative of what’s good for the rest of the country.”
Parfitt-Ford is calling on students affected by the algorithm to get in touch and potentially join his legal challenge.
A protest has been called for Friday morning outside Downing Street by students, parents, and teachers in response to the growing crisis around this year’s A-level results.
“This disaster was predicted. The unions questioned the whole process. I’m also an examiner, I work for Edexcel GCSE, so I know about exams and this system is flawed and it’s led to gross inequality,” said Alastair Smith, a secondary teacher in London who plans to attend the protest.
The legal letter came as the Association of Colleges sent a letter to the education secretary, Gavin Williamson, and Ofqual’s chief regulator, Sally Collier, calling for an urgent technical review.
“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,” said the Association of Colleges chief executive, David Hughes.
Hughes warned of “systemic bias” because on average more disadvantaged students attend further education colleges.
“At a minimum, the government must ensure that there is a free appeal system open to any people on academic grounds,” Parfitt-Ford said. He urged the government to stick with the grades teachers had given their pupils.
“Given the government’s decided to use mock exam results, the government should trust teachers because the teachers are the ones that set those mocks and who marked those mocks.”
Martha Dark, the director and co-founder of Foxglove, said: “We are seeing the very real impact of grades by algorithm today. It is heartbreaking that we are seeing years of study and hard work by students graded so unfairly. This completely undermines the sense that grades award individual effort and achievement.”
An Ofqual spokesperson said: “The arrangements we put in place this summer are the fairest possible to facilitate students progressing on to further study or employment as planned.”
Ofqual published precise detail of the model on Thursday. The exams regulator said it had been transparent about the principles of the standardisation model since April, and the data it would make use of.
“Schools and colleges can appeal if they believe there has been an error or that the moderation process has not produced a reliable result. Students will also be able to take an exam in the autumn, if they would like an opportunity to improve their grade,” the spokesperson added.