Schools should consider ‘greater flexibility’ over GCSE grades for sixth form

Schools have been told to consider offering “greater flexibility” this summer when deciding whether a student with lower GCSE grades should be admitted on to a sixth form course.

England’s exams regulator has suggested that headteachers could put “slightly less weight” on a few lower grades that a pupil receives next month if it helps them to progress into sixth form.

Schools have been advised to look at other evidence, such as a student’s “potential” rather than grades alone, in their decisions about post-16 study after this summer’s exams were cancelled.

In a letter to heads, Sally Collier, Ofqual’s chief regulator, said: “You may wish to consider whether you can offer greater flexibility in your admissions decisions than you would in any other year, to allow students to progress to the courses you offer.

“For example, if a student has missed one grade, you may want to consider the profile of their grades and put slightly less weight on the one or two lower grades.”

Collier also warned that teachers will be investigated for potential malpractice if they tell students or parents predicted GCSE and A-level grades, or rank orders, ahead of results day.

“This is to protect the integrity of the grading process, and to avoid you and your staff being put under pressure. Since the final grades for some or all students in a centre could be different from those submitted, it also helps to manage students’ expectations,” she added.

It comes after the exams watchdog announced last week that GCSE and A-level students’ results were likely to be higher this summer than previous years after schools submitted grades.

Ofqual has predicted that overall students’ results will be “better” than last year’s – with an increase of 1% for GCSE across the grades and around 2% for A-level grades.

This year’s results would have been 12 percentage points better at A-level and nine percentage points at GCSE than in 2019 if the teacher-assessment grades had not been standardised.

In the letter to headteachers on Monday, Collier told all schools and colleges to expect to “see some adjustments” to their assessment grades as part of the standardisation process.

But in guidance to students, also released on Monday, Ofqual said: “The arrangements for grading this summer will enable the majority of students to progress to the next stage of study or employment, and you may still be able to do this even if your grade isn’t what you wanted.”

Students in England will be awarded grades on the usual dates next month based on teacher assessments which have been standardised by exams boards using a model created by Ofqual.

Julie McCulloch, director of policy at the Association of School and College Leaders, said they endorsed Ofqual’s message about showing greater flexibility to students in terms of their onward progression to courses.

She said: “The extraordinary circumstances mean that a spirit of generosity is needed in taking into account a wide range of factors beyond grades, both in further and higher education, and we are sure that providers know this already.”

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