Accusations that independent schools manipulated A-level and GCSE grades last year are “simply untrue”, the Independent Schools Council (ISC) has said.
An article published in The Sunday Times on Saturday looking at pandemic grade inflation in 2021 suggests that independent schools cheated the system to give pupils more top grades.
“In 2019, 16.1 per cent of private school pupils had their A-levels graded A*. In 2021 — when teachers decided what marks to award their pupils — the proportion jumped to 39.5 per cent,” the article read.
The ISC – and associations representing the heads, governors and bursars at independent schools – sent a letter to the newspaper following the publication of the article.
It read: “The Sunday Times article headlined ‘Private schools ‘gamed’ Covid rules to give their pupils more top A-Levels’ is simply untrue and undermines the results achieved by hard-working pupils in difficult circumstances.
“Ofqual undertook analysis of all results rather than a small sample and in Ofqual’s own words: ‘Exam boards looked at student work from all types of school and college as part of the external quality assurance process. They did not find that any type of school or college was more likely than others to have provided grades that did not reflect the standard of their students’ work.’
“Every school followed the same process – each one had to compile a portfolio of evidence supporting grading decisions and schools whose grade profile was unexpected were investigated. Very few schools of any type were asked to change grades because their grades were judged to be fair.
“Having endured widespread disruption across the pandemic, exam year pupils need to be able to move forward with confidence in the grades they have achieved.”
It is a direct attack on thousands of hard-working professionals, casts doubt over the integrity of their school leaders and seeks to devalue the achievements of tens of thousands of pupils – Dr Simon Hyde, HMC
Dr Simon Hyde, general secretary at The Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC), said the accusations are “unprecedented”.
“It is a direct attack on thousands of hard-working professionals, casts doubt over the integrity of their school leaders and seeks to devalue the achievements of tens of thousands of pupils who, alongside their peers have had to adapt to rapid change and uncertainty and manage their own and others’ fears and anxiety during a global crisis,” said Hyde.
Hyde acknowledged that students in independent schools were subject to a less disruptive education during the pandemic than those in the state sector, had greater access to digital resources and more support at home. He also said the shift to coursework and shorter, more focused assessment benefitted the sector as these elements have long been embedded in independent schools.
However, he added: “In ‘normal’ exam years, independent school pupils are concentrated in the higher grades. It should therefore come as little surprise that improvements in outcomes based on what many would see as a ‘less pressured’ (for pupils) process of assessment of what pupils know and can do, by the people (their teachers) who know and understand their true capability, would be likely to be more evident in already high-performing centres.”
Many pupils, not just those in independent schools, therefore received the best grade possible for them, Hyde said.
He added: “None of this was unforeseen and none of it has anything to do with ‘gaming’ the system or, to put it bluntly, cheating. There has been a significant shift in grade profiles across both the state and independent sectors.”
Read the ISC’s letter
Read the HMC’s response