Exam Results and Gradings

Students and teachers are often disappointed with some or all of their grades, and this will always be so. Don’t let us be consoled by this and dismiss the anxiety over grades as a temporary, COVID driven problem requiring only an immediate, pragmatic solution.

I was for several years in the early 2000s, a senior A level examiner. I set papers, wrote mark schemes and participated in grade reviews before grades were published.

I participated in meetings that manipulated mark schemes after students had completed papers but before they were marked – also in the meetings which manipulated grade boundaries after marking. These manipulations had four aims:

  • To try and achieve a normal (bell-shaped) distribution of the marks.
  • To achieve a distribution of grades as similar as possible to that in previous years.
  • To avoid favouring or disadvantaging some classes of students.
  • To try and maintain a consistent standard of intellectual challenge from year to year.

These aims are entirely appropriate but can clash horribly despite best endeavours.

I can still feel the pressure as I marked and remarked the coursework of my own students, knowing that the marks would very substantially contribute to their grades and that my own reputation was at stake each year. The pressures on teachers passing judgement during this COVID year must have been horrendous.

I hope that the COVID grades fiasco will lead to a better understanding of the inevitable pitfalls of both teacher assessment and of public exams and tests. A proper balance between these is essential. The Tories have been so wrong to minimize coursework.

Grades should be abolished. How can we determine the futures of our children by erecting a series of artificial cliff edges where, for example, there is no real difference between a top D and a bottom C? 

There are possible alternatives. We would do a huge public service if we chose a good alternative and campaigned for it. This might even compensate for tuition fees!


* I have been a long time Liberal and Libdem voter, member of the European Movement, I joined after the referendum