Having an Effective Ranking Discussion

Author: Barnaby Grimble

Category 2020 Exam Grades

There will be a lot of challenges when deciding the rank order of  students that have been recommended the same grade. Keeping the process as objective as possible, based on evidence of the performer will be essential to ensure fairness for students. In departments where many teachers may be comparing students, it is worth taking a little extra time to plan the session as it will save time and stress throughout the meeting and in the long run. 

Making sure that the discussions don’t just reflect the advocacy skills of the teachers involved or result in heated arguments will require effective leadership by the chair of the meeting (most likely a subject leader or head of department). Once you have your initial rankings (start position) using the approach covered in Step 4: Ranking Students Fairly And Objectively, this article discusses the actual meeting logistics, helping to ensure the meeting is as fair and as objective as possible when validating and finalising rank positions across a whole cohort.  

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How long is your meeting likely to take?

In departments with large numbers of students to discuss, it may be better to do it in a series of sessions, each kept to a reasonable time limit. Look at your list of students to rank and the teachers of that group; if you have 30 students on grade 5 and each one takes 2 minutes to discuss, then that already will be a meeting that runs for an hour. If it is longer than this people’s patience and focus may start to wane, especially if you are only involved in a few of the students. This could lead to rushed decisions or more heated discussions and people just ceding the point to move things along. This will unfairly disadvantage students at the end of the list.

If there are a lot of students to rank, split the grades you are looking at into separate sessions and involve only those who teach that group of students or who have the required  insight into their performance in the subject.

Setting out the process

For the discussion process, we have drawn on the experience of Chris Baker, a former physics teacher turned professional footballer recruiter, who has to rank players based on the input from a very large number of different people and data sources. You can see his blog discussing his experience and advice regarding ranking here

In making any changes to the rankings, it is important to keep discussions focused on evidence linked to performance. Edit the list from Ofqual to match the most reliable evidence you have available in your department. Share it with the team and draw attention to it at the start of the meeting. If conversations start to move off of these sources of evidence relating to performance, then use the list to refocus the discussion.

Download a concise version of the Ofqual list of suitable evidence

Set the rules for the meeting. Here are some rules as a starting point:

    • Go through the students one-by-one, working from the top of the list down - don’t jump about
    • One person can make one point at a time without interruption, make sure any involved have said something, even if it is just “agreed”
    • Ensure every student that needs to be ranked is discussed, even if it’s just that all say “agreed”
    • Only points raised in the meeting will be considered - no petitioning after
    • Display the changes as you go through the list
    • Once the list end has been reached, go back through the list from top to bottom and confirm the decisions made
    • Absolutely no changes will be made outside the meeting

It may help if an impartial person makes the change on the one document as that then ensures they have a clear, final affirmation from the chairperson that all can hear before making the change to the list. This also makes sure that the chair of the meeting can focus on the actual discussions that are happening.

Follow-up from the meeting

Be clear from the start of the meeting on whether you will be doing a second meeting to confirm all are happy with the updated finalised list. This may be on a different day once everyone involved has had a chance to reflect on the final list. In this case, everyone can review the version sent out to them at the end of the first round. 

It is worth checking the changes that have been made at the end of the first round. Are there any patterns that would suggest there is some unconscious bias? For example are students that are Pupil Premium, EAL, SEN, those in a particular ethnic group or gender all appearing at the top or bottom of each ranking? You may not see it individual, but across a larger cohort this may become apparent. The download from Pupil Progress will have filters and any of the sub-group information on it so you can sort them in rank order and filter each grade and look at the distribution of each sub-group. Don’t be afraid to flag this up at the start of the second meeting.

This confirmation meeting should be much shorter, as far less movements should be needed. Again, read out every single name, top to bottom, and genuinely pause or hear the words  “agreed” or “yes” from everyone before you move on. Use the same rules as you used in the first meeting, but be clear that at the end of this confirmation meeting, the list is considered final and will go to the Head of Centre for confirmation and submission.

Other considerations

This needs to be a collaborative effort to make sure that everybody has ownership over the final rankings. As stated by Ofqual, the centre is submitting the rankings, not individual teachers. Ensure all teachers have had an opportunity to speak up and make sure everyone has their opinion listened to. Not all will be happy with the final order, but it is important that everybody has a chance to be heard. It is not a competition of who can advocate best for their students.

Some may feel uncomfortable about ranking students, and that is alright. This is a tough situation that nobody would have wanted, but a decision has to be made. Ofqual have made it clear that Tied ranks (that is, giving two students position 1) will not be allowed and will mean the submission is rejected by the exam board and returned to the centre for amendment.(Ofqual, 3rd April) so there is no running away from these rankings.

Chris Baker also recommends that “It needs to be made REALLY CLEAR that people only get moved up or down during the meeting. No lobbying before or after!” Knowing this is the case before the meeting will make sure all have to speak up during the meeting out of fairness to all students. The definite cut off will support the well-being of all involved; once it is done, nothing can be changed and so there is no benefit to dwelling on the decisions.

At the end of the day, this is about getting fair rankings for the students that are only to be used if the grades are moderated up or down by the exam boards.  As Ofqual have said, “For this to be as fair as possible, it is important that the rank order of students is as accurate as possible” (Ofqual, 3rd April); this is for the benefit of all students.

If you are interested in finding out more about how Pupil Progress can support you through the whole process of grading students, please click the link below:

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