Skip to main content

TWO: What of fairness and equality?

Considerable fears remain in many quarters that fairness and equality will elude the government and Ofqual. The current system appears to be trying to chase ‘ghosts’ that cannot be caught or assessed using current methods. A new way to assess students will be needed that gathers the attributes of students in the context of their situation. Of course, ensuring equal access to education on a level playing field would be a better way to give all of them same chance. 

There is little doubt that the Centre Assessment Grade (CAG) methodology used by Ofqual this summer was crudely designed to ensure as little grade inflation as possible. By achieving this goal, it is only logical to assume that any existing inequalities would remain in place as standards remained the same across the board. Schools and colleges with a good past record would be guaranteed to continue to maintain this position in 2020. Others with a lesser record would stay at the back as before. 

Sure enough, with ‘Student-level equalities analyses for GCSE and A level Summer 2020’, Ofqual has excelled itself with the conclusion “for GCSEs and A Levels, there is no evidence that either the calculated grades or the final grades awarded this year were systematically biased against candidates with protected characteristics or from disadvantaged backgrounds.” 

The 180 pages of the .pfd document are packed with multivariate analysis tables comparing actual results from 2018 and 2019 with the Centre assessment grade (CAG) determinations from 2020. 

The report largely reiterates the same conclusions reached in August with ‘Awarding GCSE, AS, A level, advanced extension awards and extended project qualifications in summer 2020: interim report August 2020’. It concluded “The analyses show no evidence that this year’s process of awarding grades has introduced bias”. 

Hiding a problem. 

Both reports consider the possible effect on results based on gender, ethnicity, free school meals and socioeconomic status. Socioeconomic status (SES) is categorised into low, medium, and high groups for convenience. This is a common classification system that consolidates many different measures. These are not fully defined in the report, but the assumption might be that students and their families are placed into one of these categories based on combined income, education, and occupation. The IFS has a good explanation from 2019 in ‘A comparison of commonly used socio-economic indicators’. However, an earlier report by Ofqual in August defined the three SES groups in equal proportions in a ranking based upon family income and the ‘Income deprivation affecting children index (IDACI)’ that forms part of the ‘English Indices of Deprivation 2019’ . These are usually ranked by decile in the National Pupil Database

Thus, the differential between the very top and bottom of the index is somewhat diluted due to the methodology used by Ofqual. 

One wonders if there might have been a more pronounced bias against the disadvantaged at the extreme ends of the IDACI spectrum. By division into three groups instead of ten, this effect may have been hidden. 

Two very important existing effects on fairness and equality are not considered in the report. The first is the inherent unreliability and possible inaccuracy of the examination assessments and the second is the existing inequality that standardisation using CAGs managed to maintain. 

There is a pressing need to look again at the examination assessment methodology. This must be accompanied by a serious look at the extent of inequality in education provision. Seeking ways to hide this in the data is not a serious way forward. 

Mike Larkin, retired from Queen's University Belfast after 37 years teaching Microbiology, Biochemistry and Genetics. He has served on the Senate and Finance and planning committee of a Russell Group University.


Popular posts from this blog

Ofqual holding back information

Ofqual has responded to an FOI request from TEFS this week. They held a staggering twenty-nine board meetings since March. Despite promising the Parliamentary Education Committee over a month ago they would publish the minutes “shortly” after their meeting on 16th September, they are still not able to do so. They cite “exemption for information that is intended to be published in the future” for minutes that are in the “process of being approved for publication” . More concerning is they are also citing exemption under the “Public Interest Test”. This means they might not be published, and Ofqual will open themselves up to legal challenges. If both the Department for Education and Ofqual are prevented from being more open, then public interest will lie shattered on the floor and lessons will not be learned.  Ofqual finally responded to the TEFS Freedom of Information (FOI) request to publish the minutes of its board meetings on Tuesday. It should have been replied to by 17th Septembe

Bristol University student death: Inquest raises many concerns

The inquest into the tragic death of Bristol University Student, Ben Murray, took place this week; almost 12 months since he took his own life.* The coroner recorded a verdict of suicide earlier today but warned the University that it should make detailed inquiries after each death (BBC News ‘University of Bristol told to learn lessons after Ben Murray's suicide’ ). The anniversary of his death is this Sunday the 5th of May. Spring comes as a time of hope for most people but for others it can be a time of considerable anxiety and stress. This is especially the case for students approaching the examination period. As a close colleague of mine often pointed out, “they are all someone’s child”. Our hearts go out to the family of Ben Murray and friends as the inquest goes over again the events of a year ago. The pain is further exacerbated by media reports that he had little or no support in what was his first year at university. The BBC reported that ‘Bristol University studen

The perfect storm for Universities PART TWO: The COVID-19 ‘time bomb blind-spot’

Pdf LINK PART ONE set out the context of the mounting predicament universities are finding themselves in around the rise in student numbers coming down the line. PART TWO looks at the immediate burden of more students finding themselves in financial difficulty. Loss of income sources for many students will be compounded by families at home losing their incomes as the recession bites before Christmas. It will impact 'middle-class' families unused to the idea of poverty and add to the growing numbers of students seeking help. The government and universities may be stumbling into another storm by failing to see the extent of the problem because of a ‘blind spot’ in their understanding. TEFS has received reassurances directly from each of the UK Universities ministers, but they are putting too much faith in university administered hardship funds as their only fallback position. This brings many problems with it as the ministers reject a TEFS call for a UK wide task force on