Exam grade inflation will take years to put right, admits watchdog

Exam grade inflation could remain for years to come, the watchdog chief has suggested as he warns it is "unlikely" that grades will go straight back to 2019 levels.

Simon Lebus, interim chief regulator of Ofqual, said there would have to be a "managed migration" back to the pre-pandemic levels of inflation.

He also hinted that students’ exams could be graded more generously to make up for the amount of disruption they have had to their schooling.

"The time lost in this academic year varies greatly according to locality, according to school and according to how the pandemic has unfolded in particular areas," he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

"One way of taking account of that is in the grading system because it’s unlikely we will be going back straight to the 2019 grading system."

‘Managed migration’ back to pre-pandemic grading system

He added: "There will have to be a managed migration back to that and obviously the grading system can be used as one of the ways of addressing some of the lost learning."

His remarks suggest that rather than dropping back to the 2019 levels of inflation in one go, this will take place over a few years.

This week, Ofqual announced its proposals to make sweeping changes for next summer’s exams, which include telling students in advance what topics will come up on exam papers.

Exams have been axed altogether for the past two years due to the pandemic. In 2020, a controversial algorithm was initially used to calculate students’ grades, but this was eventually ditched following an outcry.

‘Weimar Republic levels’ of grade inflation 

Teachers’ predicted grades were used instead, which led to huge grade inflation and a surplus of students qualifying for university places. The same is expected to occur this summer.

Experts have previously warned that exam boards should be braced for "Weimar Republic levels" of grade inflation this summer.

Barnaby Lenon, a former member of Ofqual’s standards advisory group, said that teachers’ predictions for GCSEs and A-levels would be "wildly inflated" and exam boards would have "difficulty" checking all 6.5 million grades.

He explained a major problem with the proposed grading system for this summer was that there would be "no obvious attempt to limit the number of grades awarded at each level", which he said was "a fundamental requirement" for most qualifications systems.

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