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Making grades as fair as they can be: advice for schools and colleges

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: A levels and GCSEs

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We will shortly publish the outcome of our consultation on arrangements for awarding grades in GCSEs, AS and A levels this summer.

In a few weeks the window will open for schools and colleges to submit centre assessments grades and rank order information for their students (1 to 12 June) in each of their subjects (including the Extended Project Qualification and Advanced Extension Award in maths).

Our aim is to ensure that this year’s grading is as fair as possible, given the unprecedented circumstances, so that students can progress to the next stage of their lives.

We know from the comments we received in response to our consultation that many students would prefer to have taken their exams, but that is just not possible in the current circumstances. Instead, everyone across the sector is working together so that students don’t miss out because their exams have been cancelled.

In this blog, we’re focusing on what schools and colleges should do now to make sure their own students’ grades are fair this summer.

Focus on your own centre and on each subject

Some teachers have asked if the grades of their students might be affected if other centres submit more generous centre assessment grades. We have also had questions from centres accepting entries from private candidates about whether including these students in their centre’s rank order could have an impact on other students.

Here’s what you need to know about how the standardisation model will work.

  1. It will operate at subject level, not at centre level. For example, the standardisation for GCSE English language will not be affected by the standardisation of GCSE history or A level English language. This means that centres might see different levels of adjustment in different subjects.
  2. Within each subject, it will consider each centre individually, using the centre’s historical results and the prior attainment of the current students, to judge whether its centre assessment grades are more generous or severe than predicted. For AS/A levels, the standardisation will consider historical data from 2017, 2018 and 2019. For GCSEs, it will consider data from 2018 and 2019, except where there is only a single year of data from the reformed specifications. The model will accommodate those centres for whom there is not this many years of data available. If a centre’s centre assessment grades are judged to be more generous than expected in a subject, some or all of the grades will be adjusted before being issued (although the rank order won’t change). And it will also make sure that, at a national level, grade distributions are broadly in line with other years.
  3. As set out in our private candidate policy update, Heads of Centre should submit centre assessment grades for private candidates, and include the student in their rank order, where they feel they or their staff have seen sufficient evidence to make an objective judgement. But in most cases (aside from certain centres, such as distance learning providers supporting significant numbers of private candidates) the model will make sure that private candidates do not affect the grades of other students at the school or college.

So it’s important that teachers and Heads of Centre focus on making the most objective judgements for every student.

Your judgements are important, and should always be your own, including where external organisations may be offering to help you to produce centre assessment grades for your students. As in other years, it is likely there will be some small year-on-year variation in your centre’s results – up in some subjects and down in others.

Make careful and objective judgements

Each centre assessment grade should be an holistic professional judgement, balancing different sources of evidence and data. It is important that your centre’s judgements are objective, only taking account of existing evidence and not irrelevant factors, such as a student’s socio-economic background or any particular protected characteristic they may have.

We know there are concerns about the potential for some students to be disadvantaged by the approach this summer. We have published additional guidance to help make sure judgements are objective.

We appreciate that putting students in rank order is challenging, but it is important that it is done carefully and as objectively as possible.

Because these arrangements have had to be put in place very quickly due to the coronavirus pandemic, it has not been possible to provide national training to school and college staff to support judgements to be made in a standardised way. So it’s likely that all centres will see some adjustment to their centre assessment grades, however carefully they have made their judgements.

Having the rank order as well as the centre assessment grades will allow exam boards to make more nuanced adjustments to centre assessment grades so that grades are better aligned across centres in a subject, in the interests of fairness to all students.

We have proposed that centre assessment grades and rank order information should be kept confidential until after results are issued, so that staff are not put under pressure when reaching their judgements.

We know school and college staff are working under difficult conditions to submit grading information for their students. Spending time responding to requests from students or their parents/carers for information about centre assessment grades could also undermine a Head of Centre’s ability to submit the data on time, and create unfairness.

Check and double check the data before submission

In a normal summer, exam boards have several layers of checking and quality assurance in place to make sure that students’ marks are totalled correctly and that the mark they get is the mark on the script that they completed, even if they got their centre or candidate number wrong.

This year, exam boards are putting in place checks to make sure that the information you provide matches their records and meets the requirements, but it is not possible for them to check whether the position of individual candidates in the rank order is correct. So please do check, and double check, before submitting them.

As you prepare for the important task of submitting centre assessment grades and rank order information, I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your professionalism and support in making these judgements fairly for your students.


Given the nature of this topic, we understand readers may have specific questions or concerns about their particular situation. While it isn’t possible to respond to individual questions via our blog, you can contact our Public Enquiries Team on 0300 303 3344 or via email

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