Step 1: What Grades Were Your Students Working At By 20th March?

Author: Barnaby Grimble

Category 2020 Exam Grades

Ofqual have made it clear that work done after 20th March shouldn't be taken in to consideration when deciding students' recommended grades. Due to the wide variety of circumstances and contexts for different subjects, schools and students, what can be used to inform the grades is broad.

Don’t forget that the guidance has to cover:

  • Private candidates
  • Students with a lot of absence
  • Students who missed mocks
  • Students who haven’t completed NEAs (Non-Examined Assessments)
  • Departments with NQTs or less experience of teaching exam year groups
  • Teachers who have just joined a school or started teaching a class
  • Classes with a large amount of supply teaching

Ofqual have kept the range broad so that you can choose the most appropriate evidence is within your context, thus providing a rigorous, fair and justifiable grade. They have said:

“It is important that the judgements are objective, and they should only take account of evidence about student performance.”

(Ofqual, 3rd April) [our emphasis]

Click here if you want to download our full guide to read later

Use The Most Valid Data Possible

For the majority of situations mock data and internal assessments and completed NEA’s (Non-examined Assessments) will give the most reliable, objective indicator of what grade students were working at by the 20th of March. Having a clear picture of what grade the students were currently working at will provide the best possible consistency and rigour to the suggested Teacher Judgement Grades. Professional judgement can then be applied to estimate the likely improvement from the 20th of March to June. 

Of course, the Teacher Judgement will be subjective based on what you know about the students, but presented with the same evidence, a colleague should be able to easily see how the Teacher Judgement has been arrived at. Having the Current Grade (from March 20th) next to the Teacher Judgements will help any with any validation process. These Teacher Judgement grades will be validated by subject leaders and the heads of centre (a collective responsibility) and then a grade and ranking will be submitted by the centre.

Taking Into Account The Unit Weightings

Every GCSE has at least 2 units and A-Levels have 3 units. The skills and content covered in each unit differ for every course. This is most obvious for subjects with a practical element like Drama, PE or Music. But for other subjects it will relate to different skills, assessment objectives and content. Some students will excel in one unit more than another and it is important to ensure that  the right weighting for each unit is calculated.

Every course is made up of different units. Each unit is worth a specific number of marks that is specifically weighted for the overall total for the course. Your tracker or spreadsheet should show the number of marks (not just grade) for each unit so you can see how the overall total marks for the course has been calculated and is then converted into a grade. 

Averaging grades may work where there are only two units of equal weighting and content, but in courses with practicals, scaled marks, or different weightings for all three units, then the Overall Total Marks may result in a different grade to the average. This is why our trackers show both the Grades per unit and an overall total grade that is calculated from the  Overall Total Marks using grade boundaries from the very latest exam series.

For example, in AQA Drama using the 2019 grade boundaries:

Calculating grades accurately

Correct Grade based on Overall Total Marks = 3

In this situation, the overall marks shows the student is currently a Grade 3 (and our tracker also tells you they are 1 mark off a grade 4). However, if the Grades are just averaged, the calculation incorrectly suggests that the student has achieved a grade 4;

Incorrect Averaged Grade = 5+2+5 / 3 = 4

If this inaccurate data is repeated across a whole cohort and used to inform grade judgements, this could then dramatically inflate the grade distributions and therefore increase the likelihood of the subjects within a centre being moderated down. This is why it is important to calculate an Overall Total Mark based on the marks per unit first, and to use the marks to inform the current Working at Grade.

Which Grade Boundaries To Use?

Ofqual have asked that in their judgements "centres should assume that it is no easier or harder for a student to achieve a particular grade this year, compared to previous years" (Ofqual, 3rd May, page 5). We would currently suggest using grade boundaries from the very latest summer exam series (June 2019) regardless of which paper or papers have been sat. This is because this set of boundaries will be the most realistic and the closest match for this year's series that was due to happen.

For teaching and reporting purposes we have previously suggested adding 3-4% to increase the challenge for students and to account for any changes to the national boundaries. As you are using the data for now making your June predictions we would suggest going for the most realistic (rather than cautious) and therefore remove any additional changes to the boundary level. Of course, if you strongly feel the boundaries need to be adjusted for your context, you can easily do so on our trackers. 

What If We Don’t Have Mock Data?

Use the next best available data for that unit. This may be a combination of internal tests, end of topic assessments, or any other suggestion by Ofqual. Our trackers allow you to add your own Personalised Assessments as marks and will scale the mark  to the correct weighting and amount for that specific unit. This way, you will know that every assessment mark that has been added is calculated in the way that the exam board requires. It will also clearly evidence where the data that has informed these calculations has come from.

If there is practical work in your course, then our trackers are laid out so you can enter marks per criteria. This makes it more reliable to give a grade for a unit as you can enter the marks per criteria based on the practical work they have seen to date in lessons. 

Download a concise version of the Ofqual list of suitable evidence

Support With Organising Your Data

Our trackers are free to use for individual subjects or at a whole school level, all the way up until 31st August 2020. The trackers are exam board specific and ready for you to instantly enter the raw marks per unit, as a total mark, at section or at question level analysis if you wish.  This will support being able to fill in the gaps of evidence to calculate the final grade. They will ensure that all calculations consider the exact weightings for each unit, presenting a grade per unit and for the overall course using adjustable grade boundaries that are preloaded.

If you are using your own spreadsheets, our advice is to make your Current Working At Grade as accurate as possible by: 

    • Base it on the most valid data possible (mocks, internal assessments, NEA marks, marks from moderation that were imminent and cancelled)
    • If you don’t have mock data, use our Personalised Assessments tool to add marks for the most relevant and reliable evidence available instead (based on the acceptable evidence list from Ofqual)
    • Make sure your marks are weighted correctly for each unit (our tracking will do this for you)
    • Calculate Overall Total Marks based on the correct number of marks per unit
    • Calculate a Working At Grade using  the Overall Total Marks. Ensure this calculation uses the most suitable boundaries (2019 Boundaries, from the very latest exam series, is advised)

If you would like further information on using our tracking system just click the link below:

Click here to find out more about our free online tracking system to support  this whole process

To read the next article in the series click the link below:

Read More: Step 2 - Taking the Pressure out of Recommending Student Grades