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Minister says ‘we trust judgment of teachers’ amid warnings of grade inflation

Pic: David Davies/PA Wire

By Sam Blewett and Gavin Cordon, PA Political Staff

The schools minister has defended tasking teachers with setting the grades of A-level and GCSE students in the absence of exams after experts warned of widespread grade inflation.

Nick Gibb said the Government trusts “the judgment of teachers” and insisted there are checks to ensure consistency for the hundreds of thousands of students in England hit by coronavirus disruption.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson is to set out further details of how schools will be tasked with determining the grades in the House of Commons later on Thursday after exams were cancelled for a second successive year.

Following last year’s fiasco overseen by Mr Williamson, the Education Policy Institute (EPI) think tank warned the latest plans could cause “extremely high grade inflation”.

But Mr Gibb told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We trust the judgment of teachers. They’re the people who know their pupils best.

“On top of that, there are all these checks both at the school level and at the exam boards level to make sure that we do get consistency and there is a range of evidence that backs up the judgment of that teacher when they send the grades to the exam board.

“There are all kinds of detailed guidance from the exam board to make sure that teachers across the country are applying their judgment in a consistent and fair way.”

He said exams are typically the best way of judging achievement but stressed it “wouldn’t be fair” to hold them this year because of the disruption caused by the closing of schools to most pupils.

EPI chief executive Natalie Perera had said: “Without timely and detailed guidance for schools on how this year’s grades should be benchmarked against previous years, and with classroom assessments only being optional, there is a significant risk that schools will take very different approaches to grading.

“This could result in large numbers of pupils appealing their grades this year or extremely high grade inflation, which could be of little value to colleges, universities, employers and young people themselves.”

Tory MP Robert Halfon, who chairs the Commons Education Committee, echoed the warning, telling Times Radio: “I worry that there was going to be, in essence, a wild west of an exam grading system because it’s going to vary from school to school.

“There’s very little standardisation. It’s just going to be based on what an individual child has been taught.”

There was, however, largely cautious support for the proposals, with the National Education Union saying it is “likely the least worst option available”.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union Naht, said the plans “appear to chart a path which avoids the awful chaos of last year”.

Schools will be given wide flexibility in deciding how teachers assess and grade their pupils, based on those parts of the curriculum they have been taught.

Results will be published earlier than usual, with A-level grades issued on August 10 and GCSE students receiving their results two days later on August 12.

The move is expected to allow more time for pupils unhappy with their grades – particularly A-level students looking to secure university places – to submit appeals.

Assessments descended into chaos last year with the A-level results of thousands of students downgraded due to a controversial algorithm used to standardise teachers’ estimated grades.

Following a public outcry, exams regulator Ofqual announced a U-turn, allowing students to use their teachers’ predictions.

In the aftermath, Mr Williamson resisted demands for his resignation, although the chief regulator at Ofqual and the most senior civil servant at the Department for Education both stepped down, leading to accusations that officials were being scapegoated.

On Wednesday, Mr Williamson confirmed an algorithm would not be used this year.

It came as the Government launched an advertising blitz to remind people of the need to still “stay at home” despite declining coronavirus transmission rates, the success of the vaccine rollout and the launch of the road map out of lockdown.

The campaign urges people to keep going with behavioural changes including mask wearing, social distancing and hand washing.

Under plans set out by Boris Johnson on Monday, England’s stay at home order will remain in place until at least March 29 despite the minor easing of restrictions and the return of schools on March 8.

England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said while infection rates are falling, overall numbers remain “very high”, putting pressure on hospitals across the country.

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