ISC chair urges schools and universities to remember this year’s grades ‘are not real’

The ISC chair called on schools to challenge grades that are ‘the product of a limited algorithm’

Barnaby Lenon, chair of the Independent Schools Council (ISC), has urged schools, universities, pupils and their parents to recognise that this year’s exam results “are not real grades”.

He told an audience of key industry figures at the University of Buckingham’s annual Festival of Higher Education: “Schools and universities have to appreciate that the assigned grades this year are not real grades.

“Imagine a student was required to get three A*s for a top course for a top university and he was predicted to get three A*s by his school, but he actually gets two A*s and a C. The C is in design technology, a small subject in his school and one where the results have been low in the past.

“Under those circumstances, it seems to me it would be incredible if a school did not contact the university with all the evidence they can muster to make the point that this computer assigned grade is simply wrong. A product of a limited algorithm. And it would be incredible if the university didn’t then accept that student. And it would incredible if universities don’t now get this point out to applicants and initiate contact with schools straight away.”

Lenon discussed what A-level grades will mean in 2020 at the two-day conference which took place online from 7-8 July.

“They must not believe that these are real grades and therefore they should have every confidence in contacting universities” – Barnaby Lenon, chair, ISC

He explained: “Ofqual have devised a system which means that the grades will be assigned – in other words, calculated by a computer – based on five statistics: teachers’ predicted grades, teachers’ rank orders within each subject, pupils’ prior attainment, the individual schools’ previous exam results in each subject and comparable outcomes.”

Lenon said the onus is now on universities to set up communication with schools, but that schools should also challenge grades if they believe them to be wrong.

“If people believe these grades, they may be reluctant to contact universities and stand up and say this is nonsense. They must not believe that these are real grades and therefore they should have every confidence in contacting universities.”

He suggested UCAS forms should be adapted with RG for real grades and AG for assigned grades.

He also voiced his concerns about the autumn series of exams, admitting that whilst a lot of work is going into them, students will have limited time to prepare and schools will be in the midst of getting back into the swing of things with reopenings. “It sounds better than it is. I think it will be a nightmare,” he said.

The Festival of Higher Education was hosted in association with HEPI and in partnership with Pearson. The conference discussed the future of HE, the impact of Covid-19, student expectations, the digital challenge, mental health and wellbeing in education, and the political landscape.

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