Even more top grades could be awarded to A-level students this summer than last year to compensate for greater disruption to learning, it has been suggested.
There are warnings that “inflated grades” will become the new norm, making it more difficult for universities to “select accurately and fairly”.
It comes ahead of A-level results day next week when tens of thousands of school leavers will find out their grades after this summer’s exams were cancelled for the second year in a row because of the pandemic.
Teachers in England submitted their decisions on pupils’ grades after drawing on a range of evidence, including mock exams, coursework, and in-class assessments using questions by exam boards.
Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research (CEER) at the University of Buckingham, said: “The early signs are that it will be another bumper year for grades, justified as compensation for all the disruption suffered.
“The danger is that the inflated grades, in other words lower standards, will become the new norm.”
Last summer, the fiasco around grading led to thousands of A-level students having their results downgraded from school estimates by a controversial algorithm before Ofqual announced a U-turn.
The proportion of A-level entries awarded top grades surged to a record high after grades were allowed to be based on teachers’ assessments, if they were higher than the moderated grades they had received.
Ahead of A-level results day on Tuesday, Prof Smithers warned: “The expansion of the A* and A grades means that a much wider range of abilities is bundled up in them, which makes it much more difficult for universities to select accurately and fairly.
“Awarding higher grades in compensation for lost learning can be killing with kindness."
But a headteachers’ union said it is “unhelpful” to speculate on how the grades profile could look for this year’s A-levels.
Last year, 38.6% of UK entries were awarded an A or A* grades following the U-turn over grading, compared to 25.5% in 2019, according to statistics published by the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ).
Meanwhile, the proportion of entries in England, Wales and Northern Ireland awarded the top A* grade in 2020 surged to 14.4%, compared to 7.8% the year before.
But Tom Middlehurst, curriculum and inspection specialist at the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: “Speculation on how the grades profile is going to look for this year’s A-levels is both unhelpful and futile just a few days before the actual results are announced.
“The chief regulator of Ofqual has already warned a higher grades profile should be expected due to the nature of assessments this summer.
“Exams are the best form of assessment but in the absence of those this year, there is no one better placed to judge young people’s abilities than their teachers, who see them day-in-day-out."
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