The week before last, Ofqual published another consultation on grading (I know!! 7 months to go!!) which on the face of it looks like they’re tidying up the “subject level conditions and requirements for mathematics” and in my opinion, in the main, it is just that. To be honest there is one thing in it that isn’t sitting right with me and it may just be me being paranoid/over-protective/cynical/a pain in the ar5e* (*delete as appropriate)
Before I start though, let me remind you that based on the original technical specification for the new 9-1 GCSE, all of the boards have clearly stated in their specs that a grade 3 can be awarded on the higher tier (that isn’t changing!!). For me, this is one of the things that needs to be taken into account when we come to make the decision about which tier students should be entered for. I’ve written about how big a decision this is for heads of maths/teachers/students etc and it is one of the first things people ask me about on my travels – blog post here-> What if we make the wrong decision?.
Some background: In 2014 when Ofqual published the subject level guidance for maths in which the tiering requirements weren’t finalised – the below shows page 11 (and yes I have them all saved in a little DFE/Ofqual folder because things tend to go walkabouts from the .gov website but that could be me, not looking properly)
In June 2015 the below was published and it clearly laid out how the grade 3 on the higher tier was to be calculated. I’m not sure that everyone was aware of this but once the marks for the anchor points of a grade 4 (C and above) and the grade 7 (A/A* and above) were set, the MARKS for grade 5 and 6 are to be set equally spaced between them. It is important you understand that it is the MARKS that are equally spaced and not the percentage of students. From this the discretionary grade 3 was to be calculated – basically you half the difference between the 4 and 5, subtract this amount from the marks needed for a 4 and that will be the grade boundary for a 3. So for example if a 4 was 40 marks and a 5 was 66 marks the difference is 66-40 = 26, this then gets halved giving us 13, then the grade 3 would be set at 40-13 = 27. Note that this wasnt changed when the requirements document was updated following the consultation about awarding of grade 9 in April as shown below.
I can now move to the actual consultation: amongst all the bullsh1t and bluster in the document you will find the following proposed change:
Now you can call me cynical but I suspect that this is to ensure that in the first award it can be adjusted downwards (this is a good thing to protect outcomes for students) so as to manipulate the number of U grades awarded on the higher tier if everyone does so badly that by having it set in stone more students would get a U than they expect (remember there is a committment that broadly the same proportions will get a “1” and above as get a “G” and above today so they can’t have a bigger proportion of U’s than we do today) BUT I am not happy that there isn’t a minimum gap between the 4 and the 3 i.e. it can’t move closer to the grade 4 boundary. My concern is that it’s a way to change the pattern of tiers of entry and what is to stop Ofqual/DFE insisting that the boards move the 3 so close to the grade 4, in future years that we are forced to move everyone to foundation and limit their achievement – I suppose the wording suggests this boundary move can only be suggested by the awarding bodies but we all know Ofqual can influence this as they did with the grade C boundary and Pearson this year. I think that (at least) for the first year we need a consistent “minimum” – the uncertainty isn’t fair on teachers or students.
In addition to this I’m also not comfortable that “reasons must be recorded” I think this should be “recorded and published”. Awarding associations need to be held accountable for these decisions and if they are prepared to make them they should be prepared to publish too (sorry guys!). They all publish statistics on their sites but the format and amount of information isn’t consistent making comparisons difficult.
So .. have your say and respond to the consultation. I have only replied in relation to question 1 (I have however replied twice though as my first attempt wasnt very eloquent … bad Mel!!) and my second response goes something like this:
The guidance with regards the 3/U grade boundary for higher tier assessments being provisionally set by subtracting half the mark interval between the 5/4 and 4/3 grade boundaries (rounding up half marks) from the 4/3 boundary has been in place since 2015 and I would suggest that the ability to adjust this should be implemented BUT that it can never be less than the above (or at least for the first year!) Given that there is very little guidance from exam boards etc, in the first year this wording will provide teachers with at least some guidance as to the minimum difference but were my suggested addition of words adopted for future years it would also provide us with assurances that yourselves/DFE will not make the boundary so close to the grade 4 so as to force people to move students to the foundation tier and manipulate the profile for the tiers of entry.
In addition to the above I feel the wording should be updated to include a requirement on the awarding associations to publish their reasons for any changes and not just “recorded”.
I have also added and I know it’s not really an Ofqual thing (but what the heck!):
It would also be helpful if they are required to publish statistics in relation to their entries in a standard format – this information should also include their entries on the different tiers, the grade breakdown for each tier and also the entire mark distribution for their entries showing the percentage/number of students achieving each mark on both tiers of entry.
I’ll be back later with another post … I’ve had a response to my letter that I wrote to Ofqual. It’s good news I think!