Black students lower exam grades likely says Parliamentary committee

Black parents’ fears of lower than expected exam grades for their children was confirmed by an influential parliamentary committee.

ECA -  Black students expected to get lower grade. Photo by Oladimeji Ajegbile from Pexels

Black parents’ fears of lower than expected exam grades for their children was confirmed by an influential parliamentary committee.

The House of Commons Education Select Committee has raised concerns that black youngsters could be awarded lower GCSE and A-level results than they deserve this summer due to teachers’ “unconscious bias” and “inaccuracy”.

With GCSE and A-level exams cancelled this summer due to the Covid-19 pandemic, teenagers in England will receive “calculated grades” based on predictions from teachers. These calculated grades will then be moderated by the exam boards for national consistency.

Numerous submissions to an enquiry by the committee warned of the potential for “unconscious bias” to affect teachers’ predicted grades for black and ethnic minority pupils, poorer students and those with special educational needs.

Committee chair, Robert Halfon, backed up his concerns with the following comments when interviewed on BBC Radio 4 show on 11 July. Mr Halfon said,

  • Survey after survey shows that there is … unconscious bias”;
  • The Sutton Trust found that “about 1,000 high-achieving disadvantaged students have their grades under-predicted per year”;
  •  “Just 16% of [university] applicants received the grades they were predicted”.

Mr Halfon went on to call for Ofqual, the assessment watchdog, to use a standardisation model that reflects the potential for this unconscious bias and so create “a level playing field”.

Oveta McInnis, a recently retired deputy headteacher in Enfield with 38 years’ experience in secondary schools had this to suggests, these are unprecedented times which have caused parents and students in year 11 and 13 particularly much stress.

According to McInnis, "Historically black and ethnic minority students have faired less well when outcomes are determined by predicted grades. This is often due to unconscious bias of teachers.

"With this in mind, when results are published on results day, if they are unhappy with the grades, parents do have the right to request an appeal. Students may also wish to sit the exam in September, which they have the right to request once they receive their results. If they choose to sit the exam the best of either their predicted grade or exam grade will be recorded. As they have not been taught for several months, there is a slim chance that the exam grade will be higher than the predicted grade."

Students dissatisfied with their results will be able to appeal if they believe there was bias or discrimination, or on the basis of an error in the process. However, the committee said that it would be incredibly hard for students to prove they had been discriminated against.

The committee welcomes the option for students to sit back-up exams in the autumn, but raised significant concerns about ensuring fairness for disadvantaged pupils given the extent of learning loss due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

McInnis adds, "My advice, if based on your exam grades in August, you gain access to the higher level course, University or college/School that you applied for to take your degree or A levels respectively, accept the place and move on."

If you have concerns about unconscious bias in your child’s exam grades, then contact Ofqual:

Register a complaint
Earlsdon Park
53-55 Butts Road


Telephone: 0300 303 3344

The phone line is open on weekdays from 9am to 5pm except bank holidays.

Posted: July 15, 2020