The decision to link this year’s GCSE and A-level results to past performance entrenches inequalities that those unable to sit exams can do nothing about

From the moment in mid-March when schools closed indefinitely to curb the spread of Covid-19, it was obvious that 2020 would be an anomalous and stressful year in the education of millions of young people. For pupils scheduled to take GCSEs and A-levels, the situation has been particularly disorienting and strange. As it became clear that end-of-school exams would not take place, pupils’ future prospects were taken out of their hands and placed at the mercy of an assessment system to be devised by exam regulators. They have been badly failed.

Instead of coming up with a system that focused on individual students, taking into account the wholly exceptional circumstances that jeopardised their life chances, regulators made it the priority to achieve a “normal” statistical spread of results and avoid grade inflation. England’s exam regulator, Ofqual, has done this by combining teacher assessments of likely grades with the pupil’s previous performance and the past record of the school as a whole. On the basis of a similar contextualisation, the Scottish Qualifications Authority last week downgraded 124,000 pupils’ awards, which were based on teacher estimates of what they would have achieved. Pupils in the poorest areas were marked down the most. This Thursday, when 250,000 English pupils will receive their A-level results, almost 40% of grade assessments by teachers may be revised downwards, according to research seen by the Guardian.

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