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Schools Minister Defends Ditching Exams Due To Covid Despite Backlash Over Possible Grade Inflation

Schools minister Nick Gibb has defended plans to replace exams with teacher assessments this summer (PA)

4 min read

The schools minister Nick Gibb has rejected criticism that replacing GCSE and A-level exams with assessments by teachers will lead to widespread grade inflation this summer.

Gibb said it was the fairest way of adjudicating pupil performance after a year of disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic, and is “the best we can do other than exams”.

He was speaking ahead of education secretary Gavin Williamson’s statement to the Commons today outlining how the new system will work, after experts claimed plans to put schools solely in charge of grades and ditch the controversial algorithm used last summer outlined by Williamson last night risked jeopardising the credibility of the qualifications.

Asked on Sky News whether the system would lead to "chaos", Gibb said such ricks had been taken into account. 

"Of course, this is not the ideal situation to be in, this is a consequence of the pandemic. But it is the fairest system given the different levels of disruption schools have faced.”He confirmed pupils will be able to sit exams if they decide that is how they perform best.

"There will be mocks in some schools where that student can thrive," Gibb told ITV's Good Morning Britain.

"There is an option for teachers to use the question bank of past paper questions that exams boards are producing for schools to use if they wish, to give an extra layer of evidence that teachers can have and can compile to submit to the exam board.

"There will be options for those students to take one of those optional papers or questions if the teacher decides that is best for the student."

Gibb added that there is "an autumn series" of exams available for those pupils who "really did want to take the exam" as part of any resit.

Natalie Perera, chief executive of the Education Policy Institute think tank, was wary of the government's proposed plans. “While the government was right to opt for teacher-assessed grades following the massive disruption to learning, our concern is that significant risks remain with its approach," she said. 

“There is still a very high risk that we will see inconsistencies in the grades among different pupils and schools and 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.”David Laws, the former education minister who chairs the EPI, said: “Without robust mechanisms in place which anchor the overall results at a level which is consistent with previous years, there is a danger that the value and credibility of this year’s grades are seriously undermined.”

However Dr Jake Anders, an expert in education policy at University College London, said teachers were being put in an impossible and “ridiculous” position and “it would be difficult to imagine appeals not soaring”.

The Association of School and College Leaders said: “grades may end up being higher overall than in normal times”, and it has been reported that Sir Jon Coles, a former director general at the education department has resigned from the Ofqual committee advising on exams over the plans.

Gibb maintained that exams remained the "fairest" way of evaluating pupil grades but said this not the case when disruption faced by pupils was taken into account. 

"It wouldn't be fair to hold exams this year and we trust the professionals - teachers are the people who know their students best and we do trust their professionalism," he told Sky News. 

The minister said he was confident the "quality assurances" in place, both at a school level and exam board level, would result in fair results, with teachers to be given "guidance" about how to grade accurately from their relevant exam boards.

"Teachers will be required to produce the evidence and the second layer of quality assurance is checking by the exam boards," Gibb added on BBC breakfast. 

Asked whether he accepted grades would be inflated this year, Gibb replied: "That's why we've put in place all these different checking mechanisms to make sure that there is consistency.

"But it is very important that the pandemic does not prevent students from going on to the next stage of their careers, whether that is to college or to university or to an apprenticeship, so we want to make sure that, despite the disruption that students have faced, they will still be able to progress.”

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