We need fairness for students taking A-levels, GCSEs and vocational qualifications in 2021. The disastrous handling of the summer 2020 exam results must never happen again. #FairGrade2021

Open letter to Gavin Williamson

More than 10,000 secondary educators have written to education secretary Gavin Williamson about this year’s secondary qualification grading. The open letter, coordinated by NEU, expresses the dismay and anger felt by educators at his department’s failure to adequately plan and prepare a system to give fairness to students, which has led to soaring teacher workload this term. The letter also asks for a £500 one-off payment from Government to teachers in recognition of the extra work created.

Please share our social media posts to put pressure on the Government to act and make clear how hard teachers have worked to cope with the system, despite Government failures.

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The NEU’s criteria for grading in 2021

The NEU believes that there are certain criteria the Government must meet – and meet urgently – in order to have the best chance of making grades for students in 2021 as fair and consistent as possible.

While schools and colleges will have an important role to play in determining grades for pupils, accounting for differences in lost learning between students across the country is a systemic issue which cannot be addressed by individual teachers/schools. Schools and colleges also need clear guidance from Government and exam boards to make decisions about grades.

The NEU responded to a Government and Ofqual consultation on the proposed grading system in January, consulting with secondary school and college members to inform our response. And in February NEU joined with sister unions, the Association of Colleges and the National Governance Association to issue principles on fair assessment this summer.

Our criteria are:

  • No student should face a detrimental impact on their ability to move onto further studies, an apprenticeship, or a career. As such, Government must put in place a national system to acknowledge and account for differentials in lost learning.
  • Exam boards must issue clear training and guidance on the evidence which schools and colleges can use to make grade judgements, but allow flexibility to schools and colleges to apply these principles to students whose achievements only they can accurately judge.
  • Schools and colleges must be able to use a breadth of appropriate evidence to inform judgements on grades to ensure the fairest outcome for students.
  • Grades awarded must reflect what students can do, not learning they have missed due to the pandemic.
  • Use of external assessments in awarding grades must not be compulsory.
  • Many options in this process require the professional expertise of school and college staff, however they cannot be expected to simply absorb additional workload. If Government makes policy choices which add to workload, it must outline how schools and colleges will be supported to ensure staff have the time to engage with the grading process in a way which does not increase workload.
  • Government must allocate a longer period for schools and colleges to consider evidence and arrive at student grades.
  • Exam boards must set requirements for and sign off school/college quality assurance processes.
  • Exam boards, not centres, must carry out the appeals process. It would be unfair on students and schools and colleges alike to expect centres to administer this process.
  • Government must make clear that grades will be awarded by schools and colleges, not individual teachers.