NEWS24 August 2020

Ofqual hits back at RSS A-level criticisms

Covid-19 News Public Sector UK

UK – Roger Taylor, chair of exam regulator Ofqual, has written to the Royal Statistical Society (RSS) to defend the process behind the adoption of a statistical model to decide this year’s A-level results.

Exams hall_crop

In a letter to the RSS dated 21 August, Taylor said Ofqual had not prevented experts commenting on the statistical model used, and said the approach the exam body took was “normal and entirely ethical”.

The RSS had written to the Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR) on 14 August calling for an investigation into the process behind the statistical models used to decide this year’s A-level exam results, and had claimed that a confidentiality agreement used by Ofqual prevented fellows from commenting on the model that was eventually chosen.

The algorithm used to decide the exams was later dropped in favour of teachers’ assessments of grades following widespread criticism of the results.

“The confidentiality agreement which we are making public, does not preclude anyone from commenting on the model. It only precludes the disclosure of confidential information shared within the group,” Taylor’s letter says.

“This approach is a normal and entirely ethical mechanism to ensure people can speak freely in the discussions and can see analyses of confidential data without fear of information being made public during the deliberative process.

“Those in the group are not precluded from making general comments about the process publicly so long as they do not disclose confidential information about those discussions.”

The letter says that Ofqual had addressed concerns raised by the RSS in July about the confidentiality agreement, and asked the RSS to “take all measures you can to correct this impression” that Ofqual had prevented scrutiny of the statistical processes behind the exam results prior to their publication earlier this month.

But Taylor wrote that Ofqual is exploring how to make the entire data set available through the Office for National Statistics secure research service “to enable others to look at how different approaches to moderation would have worked”.

An OSR review of the process behind the statistical models used to grade this year’s exam results will take place despite the change in government policy.

Speaking to the Today programme this morning, Stian Westlake, chief executive of the RSS, said that lawyers had told the society the confidentiality agreement was “widely drafted”. He said: “It would have prevented us from commenting on any information that was discussed in private with Ofqual that Ofqual didn’t choose to publish.”