Despite protesting that it was only this weekend that he realised the flaws in the anti-individual algorithmic system, Williamson was presented with a report by Rob Halfon’s Education Select Committee more than a month before the exam debacle. The report, warning of unfairness towards low-income students, improving schools, and those without sharp elbows, was available online for a month before even the SNP walked into their own crisis. Its warnings were apparently not taken seriously in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and England.
The report, entitled “Getting the grades they’ve earned: Covid-19 – The cancellation of exams and ‘calculated’ grades” was published on 10 July. Its key warnings over fairness were threefold, and prophetic:
“a) Bias – The Committee received numerous submissions on the potential for unconscious bias to affect calculated grades, outlining how particular groups, including pupils from low-income backgrounds, black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) pupils, and pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), could be adversely affected.
b) Ofqual’s standardisation model aims to adjust grades to ensure they are broadly in line with previous years. However, there are concerns about the risks of using historic data, which might not be fair for newer schools, or for improving and turnaround schools which are on an upward trajectory.
c) The appeals system favours the ‘well-heeled and sharp-elbowed’ who know how to navigate the system. The criteria of bias and discrimination set out by Ofqual will be incredibly hard for individual students to ascertain and to prove. After pressure from the Committee, Ofqual have agreed to a helpline but this does not go far enough to level the playing field.
Pupils with SEND, or their families, must be able to see the evidence used to calculate their grade. If the right access arrangements were not in place for the work used or if evidence from SEND specialists was not used if appropriate, the pupil should be able to appeal on the basis of malpractice or maladministration.”
Now the Government’s rushed U-turn created a multitude of other problems…