Exam boss says A Level and GCSE grades will be 'fair' amid Northern schools concern

Pupils and parents across Yorkshire and the Humber can feel 'confident' that this year’s GCSE and A level grades will be as fair to students as possible, the head of England’s exam regulator has said.

The pledge comes after teachers in England have helped decide more than 1.2m pupils’ A-level and GCSE grades - which will be received by students next month - “on what they have been taught,” after exams were cancelled for the second successive year due to Covid-19.

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But Northern education and business leaders have warned there is the risk that an already widening attainment gap between pupils in the North and those in London is set to widen further because there is such a high proportion of pupils with disadvantaged backgrounds across the region.

Teachers in England have helped decide more than 1.2m pupils’ A-level and GCSE grades - which will be received by students next month - “on what they have been taught,” after exams were cancelled for the second successive year due to Covid-19. Photo credit: PA

West-Yorkshire born Anne Longfield, the former Children’s Commissioner for England, said there is the “added pressure” that pupils in Northern parts of the country have suffered more disruption to learning due to coronavirus, which will be reflected in grades.

This includes the pandemic revealing a so-called ‘digital inequality’ as a real issue in Yorkshire, where tens of thousands of families without a laptop or device to learn remotely, as reported extensively by this newspaper.

Last year the chief executive of Sheffield-based software company WANDisco David Richards joined forces with the Sheffield Star and Northern Powerhouse Partnership to launch a campaign to help close the digital divide. Since its launch, Laptops for Kids has virtually met the initial need with pledged donations of more than 4,000 devices in the region.

Ms Longfield, 60, who lives in Ilkley, said: “Children in the areas of the north with the highest infection rates have suffered disproportionately from disruption in their education over the last 16 months, putting many of them at severe disadvantage in the assessment of their grades this year.”

West-Yorkshire born Anne Longfield. Photo credit: JPIMedia

“It’s essential that the assessment process is able to recognise this and does not penalise children who through no fault of their own have not been able to learn and progress as they had hoped.”

But Simon Lebus, acting chief executive of the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation, known as Ofqual, insisted measures are in place to mitigate inequality.

He said: “In a normal year you get some regional disparities - this year there has been some particularly challenging circumstances that have had to be dealt with in different parts of the country and I’m sure there will be some impact.

“But arrangements have been made to try and even some of those factors out.”

Frank Norris, special advisor on education to the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, said: "We must trust teachers as they are the ones that know their students best.

"Extensive quality assurance has been put in place before the results were submitted to the examination boards so we know teachers have gone the extra mile to ensure the grades awarded are fair.

"The crucial element in all of this is to make sure that the students can successfully progress to their next stage of learning or into the workplace. Grade inflation is ​of secondary ​importance to this objective.

"It is heartening that - despite the difficulties with examinations last year - many students have progressed successfully, which is testament to their resilience and desire to succeed, while confirming that the teacher assessments were appropriate."

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