Friday 18 August 2017

Ofqual: 7/10. Could do better.

Last week, we read that Ofqual  intervened with the exam boards to ensure grade boundaries tkept roughly the same proportion of pupils get the top grades this year at A level as in previous years. As a result, they were lambasted by representatives of the educational establishment. But this time, Ofqual was right.

Whatever one thinks of the Govian changes to A levels, this year promised to be a difficult year for exam comparability: some subjects are 'reformed', new, harder A levels, and some aren't. If Ofqual had allowed these new reformed courses to be significantly harder in terms of their grading than a last round of unreformed courses in subjects whose courses took longer to be approved by the regulator, this year's results would have been influenced significantly by the roulette wheel of A level subject choice, rather than by ability as we might hope. Identical candidates who chose three unreformed courses might get AAA, where those who chose three reformed courses might get BBB. (And this ignores potential variations arising from markers not being given extra time to get up to speed on the demands of the new exams). The difference might not have been one grade in each subject; it could have been even wider. Thankfully, this particular roulette wheel has been stopped before the ball came to rest on black or red, favouring half the subjects' candidates with an easier high grade than the other half. Pupils deserve better than this level of randomness. As it is, we read that while over 30% of  unreformed exams were graded A* or A, only 24.3% of reformed exams were.

The news isn't entirely good however. As I pointed out in a blog in 2013 (, grade deflation is as pernicious as grade inflation. Are employers in the future going to understand that an A grade in A level English Literature differs in value depending on the year in which the exam was taken? 2017 = relatively easy, but 2018 = much harder? Of course not. 

Interestingly, when I last wrote about grade deflation, pointing out that the switch to numbered for GCSE obviated this confusion, the chief regulator at Ofqual got in touch directly to thank me (and to make a minor factual amendment to my blog - amounting to my homework being returned with "7/10. Could do better" scrawled on it in red ink). I was flattered by the attention.

I don't think Ofqual will get in touch with me this time, even if this time  I am effectively marking their homework.

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