Thank you to all of the parents in England who answered our poll on the contingency arrangements for next year's GCSE, AS and A-level exams, plus other qualifications. With your support, we could present the Department for Education (DfE) and exams regulator Ofqual, who were jointly holding the consultation, with tangible evidence on what parents think about their proposals.
What were they asking about?
The past two cohorts have had their exams cancelled because of the pandemic. Teacher assessed grades (TAGs) have been used to determine their final grades instead. The proportion of students achieving the top grades have been higher in the last two years compared to 2019 and earlier, leading to some concerns about 'grade inflation'. The government wants to return to formal exams for summer 2022 students as the fairest way to assess children’s academic ability. However, uncertainty about the continuing disruption caused to education by the pandemic means that they have proposed a 'plan B': an alternative in the event that exams are cancelled again. They asked for the opinions of anyone involved in education on their backup plans, and that includes parents. Using the results of our poll and previous research, we responded to the DfE and Ofqual with parent voice on their proposals.
What did parents say?
1. Exams versus teacher assessed grades
Although not strictly part of this consultation, we were keen to find out whether or not parents favour the approach being taken next year, with formal exams anticipated to return, or if they would prefer the ‘plan B’ of TAGs. Asking parents to select an option, exams on their own was the least popular, chosen by 22%. A quarter (25%) prefer TAGs, in continuity with how grades have been determined for the last two years. However, the most popular answer, selected by over half (53%) of parents is a combination of exams and TAGs. The popularity of this blended approach perhaps takes into account the ongoing disruption to children's learning, with the concern that coronavirus-related absences and accompanying gaps in learning may continue into next summer for many pupils. Although these contingency arrangements will only come into play in the event that formal exams are universally cancelled, at least some use of TAGs is preferred by more than three quarters (78%) of parents.
2. Exam board papers
Parents overwhelmingly favour the proposal that exam boards should provide a set of exam papers to support teachers in assessing their students’ work. More than six out of ten (61%) strongly agree and a further 31% agree, leaving 92% in support. A small minority of 3% oppose the proposal, and 5% neither agree nor disagree. It may be that parents favour a continuity of approach, where their child can be best-prepared for assessment when it is conducted in line with the method they have prepared for and are being asked to expect.
3. A national approach
We asked parents whether or not they agree that it is important that pupils sitting exams in 2022 should all be assessed using the same approach (e.g. everyone sits exams, or everyone has teacher assessed grades). The answer was emphatic with more than three quarters (78%) strongly agreeing and a further 14% agreeing, leaving an overwhelming 92% of parents in support of a national approach. In contrast, 6% disagree or strongly disagree, and 2% neither agree nor disagree. The issue for parents centres around fairness, and ensuring that their child is not unfairly disadvantaged relative to their peers. TAGs have, during the previous two academic years, been shown to yield higher grades overall compared to standard exams. Parents would not want to think that some students will be assessed on a system likely to yield higher grades overall, whilst others are assessed on another system that is likely to provide lower grades overall. We went on to ask parents if they agree that if it becomes necessary to cancel exams in some parts of the country, exams should be cancelled for all pupils with TAGs used for all pupils instead. Overall, 86% agree, where just over two thirds (68%) strongly agree. Less than one in ten (9%) disagree and 5% neither agree nor disagree. We also asked if TAGs are the best alternative to use as a 'Plan B' if exams cannot go ahead in summer 2022. The vast majority of parents said they are, with two thirds (67%) strongly agreeing, and 88% agreeing overall. Those who did not agree totalled 7%, where 4% neither agree nor disagree.
We asked parents if TAGs are used next year, should students be able to appeal against results if they believe there was a mistake in the process or teacher's decision. A decisive 91% agree (where 66% strongly agree), and only 5% disagree, with 4% neither agreeing nor disagreeing. This aligns with earlier Parentkind research that has consistently found parents to be overwhelmingly supportive of pupils having recourse to an appeals process. In the event of the exams contingency arrangements being implemented, the appeals process must be made very clear to students and accessible to a wider stakeholder audience (such as parents) before the grades are awarded and as early as possible, so that they are well aware of the procedure to follow if they feel they have grounds to appeal.
In order to respond to this consultation, we put out a short poll to parents which was live between the 7th October and the 11th October 2021. We asked parents of children in exam cohorts in England to take the survey, and it was completed by 121 respondents. The answers are representative of parents of children in Year 10 (35%), Year 11 (44%), Year 12 (14%) and Year 13 (28%). Note that the percentages do not add up to 100 as some parents had more than one child in years 10-13.