Unions say grade inflation necessary in 2021


A degree of grade inflation will be required for next year’s exams, with education unions suggesting it would be “unconscionable” to limit results based on 2019.

Currently, no decision has been made on whether comparable outcomes – a process whereby Ofqual restricts grade inflation by ensuring similar percentages of pupils achieve the same grades – will be implemented in 2021.

Given that pupils were awarded higher than average centre assessment grades this year as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, several unions have written to schools minister Nick Gibb to say the process will need to be looked at.

At GCSE level, for example, 27.6% of pupils gained a grade 7 or above in 2020, compared to 21.9% the year before, leaving Ofqual with some decisions to make.

Decisions to consider

Firstly, the regulator needs to decide whether to return to using comparable outcomes in 2021 and secondly, if they do to use the process, which set of annual results they use as the benchmark.

The letter included joint proposals from the National Education Union (NEU), the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), the NASUWT teachers’ union and the National Governance Association.

They suggest that comparable outcomes could be used as a “starting point” to set grade boundaries, before being “altered by a number of marks to increase the percentage achieving that grade to an agreed level”.

“That level could be somewhere between what was seen in 2019 and 2020,” they add.

It is claimed that such an approach would “retain a degree of comparability and limit the extent of grade ‘inflation’ permitted”, while also factoring in the disruption that pupils have faced.

Further proposals and contingency plans

The unions also warned that contingency measures would need to be in place for those unable to take exams for the system to work.

In addition, pupils would need to be given greater choice over which questions to answer in exams, to counter any areas where teaching has been disrupted.

While exams are set to take place in 2021, the government is yet to unveil details of its contingency planning in the event of national or regional lockdowns, or if pupils are required to self-isolate.

The unions have said that any approaches used will need to be consistent, with reserve papers one idea mooted for pupils who cannot sit an exam on the original date but would be able to do so soon afterwards.