Pressure grows on education minister to issue exam marking guidelines after A-level row in England

Pressure grows on education minister to issue exam marking guidelines after A-level row in England
Sinn Féin's Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire: "There are tens of thousands of students that are very worried" about their results. File Picture.

Fresh calls have been made for full transparency around the method being used to standardise thousands of Leaving Cert calculated grades after further controversy with A-level results.

Education officials in England are now facing calls to scrap downgrades, returning instead to teachers’ estimates, after it emerged that 40% of results were marked down by the exam regulator’s algorithm.

While the proportion of top marks increased this year, the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual) is also facing calls to publish a full breakdown of teachers’ estimates and final grades to fully understand any disparities between students who were downgraded. 

This follows a u-turn by the Scottish government, which saw 75,000 students have their downgraded exam results overturned, and replaced with the original scores teachers gave them. 

It had previously emerged that schools from disadvantaged backgrounds were disproportionately affected. As in Ireland, students in Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland all saw their final school exams cancelled due to the pandemic. 

This week, Norma Foley, the Minister of Education, moved to reassure students the aim of the calculated grade system is for results to be "accurate, reliable, and fair to all students." 

Education Minister, Norma Foley. Picture: Sam Boal/
Education Minister, Norma Foley. Picture: Sam Boal/

The model was developed in close consultation with teaching unions and representative groups for students, parents, and school management bodies. 

However, there have been further calls for the full design model to be published. 

“What we don’t know is how similar our model is to the model used in Scotland, England, Wales and in the North,” said Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire, Sinn Féin's education spokesman.

“It really is high time that it is published, so we know how similar it is, and if it is similar, how we can fix it, how we can mitigate against the damage.

"At the minute, the appeals process is very limited. I think that also needs to be looked at. What we need, first of all, is transparency, and then we can know how we respond to any of the issues that have arisen.

There are tens of thousands of students that are very worried. They are completely in the dark and the minister owes it to them to come out and detail the model, and tell them exactly how this will be different. 

According to the Department of Education, teachers' estimates will be combined with information about how students in a school have fared in a subject or level in recent years in line with national performance standards. 

"The performance of this year’s group of students against their overall performance at Junior Cycle will also be reviewed," guidelines say.

"There is a significant level of human oversight required to be able to stand over the statistical model and to approve the issue of the calculated grades to students." 

This process will also be overseen by a national standardisation group, and further quality assurance will be provided through an independent committee.  

Meanwhile, Ms Foley is also facing calls to appear before the Oireachtas Covid Committee. Both Labour's Aodhán Ó Ríordáin and Garry Gannon of the Social Democrats have called on Ms Foley to appear before the committee to answer questions around schools' reopening. 

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