• Article

How are schools determining maths grades this year?

We ask around a few schools and MATs

How are schools determining maths grades this year?
  • Published: 24/03/2021

This article was published on 24 March 2021, and hence may not reflect announcements from the exam boards and others after that date

If you are losing sleep over how to determine grades for Year 11 or Year 13 students this year, you will not be alone. We asked a handful of maths HoDs and school senior leaders how they are interpreting the DfE and exam board guidance in their own unique situations, and what else they are considering.

Note: schools are not identified, as plans are still being formed and we understand that this is a sensitive area.

Existing or new assessment data?

The schools we spoke to all seem to be using a balance of new assessment data they plan to collect, and existing data they already have on record. The exact balance is likely to vary depending on how much confidence a department has in its previous data. One senior leader said she envisaged that new assessments would be used primarily, with previous data used to tweak grades where it was felt the grade did not reflect the student.

How many new assessments?

Schools have a window between April and June in which to set and gather assessment data from students. There seems to be wide variation in the number of assessments schools are setting, from a minimum of two to a maximum of five in the schools we spoke to, though we understand some schools are assessing weekly in every subject.

Most schools appear to be planning assessments during normal timetabled lessons.

Papers from where?

Most schools are waiting on release of exam board material before they make final decisions about where they get their assessment questions from. Some have constructed their own papers from previous past paper questions. Others plan to use the November 2020 series. One school commented that they think the grade boundaries from this series will be the fairest available, as they were set to account for Covid disruption.

Which topics?

The exact nature of the exam board material remains to be seen, but it seems likely that it will be in the form of a bank of questions including past paper questions (with metrics on previous student performance) and some previously unseen questions. Schools are only expected to assess students on material that they have managed to cover during the disrupted course.

Exam conditions?

Some schools are hoping that they will be able to set at least one paper in exam conditions, and exam boards have asked that the material they are providing is not used on different days within one school. However, the exam board material will be in the public domain, so it remains to be seen how feasible imposing exam conditions will be.

Many schools are planning to brief students on topics to be assessed and guide revision accordingly.

Statistical adjustments?

Many schools are considering ‘ranking’ of students – something similar to what was required for last year’s cohort. Rankings, informed by previous and new assessment data, can then be used to norm-reference against previous cohorts within school, or national data.

Moderation and standardisation?

Schools within a MAT may benefit from being able to standardise across schools, sharing data and moderation practices. This can be more problematic if schools within the trust are not very comparable. Schools outside the MAT system may choose to ‘buddy up’ with other schools to moderate.

What else will schools be thinking about?

  • What will students learn in the remaining time, and why? How can they learn for as long as possible and how can we prioritise the content most essential for progressing to the next stage of education?
  • How can we draw on the experience of any exam markers we may have in our department?
  • Is it fair for our school to include work students did during lockdown?
  • How are we protecting ourselves from petitioning by students or their parents, for the grade they want?
  • How much 'evidence' should we be collecting/keeping? The JCQ has guidance about this.

Looking after less-experienced colleagues

If you’re an NQT, you won’t have a ‘sense’ for the grade you might expect from what you know of how a student performs in class. Lean on experienced teachers who may have taught your students lower down in the school.

If you’re a new head of maths, look for support from other heads of department in your school, or from other heads of maths locally, through your Maths Hub, exam board or other local networks.

Useful links

Exam board support pages:

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