NEWS18 August 2020

Statistics regulator to review exam results models

News Public Sector UK

UK – The Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR) has said it will conduct a review of the process behind the statistical models used to grade this year’s exam results.

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The government backtracked on the moderated grades yesterday ( 17th August), announcing it would allow A-level and GCSE results in England to be based on teachers’ assessments, following similar U-turns in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. 

However, the OSR said there is still “value in a review”. 

In a letter to the Royal Statistical Society (RSS), which had called for a review, OSR director general for regulation, Ed Humpherson, wrote: "OSR plans to undertake a review focused on the process of developing the statistical models. Our review will consider the extent to which the organisations developing the models complied with the principles set out in the Code of Practice for Statistics."

The RSS raised concerns over the quality and trustworthiness of the statistical models used by qualifications regulators in the absence of exams this year.

As exams could not take place due to Covid-19 restrictions, algorithmic models taking into account schools’ past performances and teachers’ estimated grades were used to determine pupils’ final grades. The use of the system has been criticised for penalising pupils who attend historically lower-performing schools.

"Our review will seek to highlight learning from the challenges faced through these unprecedented circumstances. We will not review the implications of the model on individual results or take any view on the most appropriate way to award exam grades in the absence of exams," the OSR said. It will also contribute its findings to other relevant reviews where appropriate.

The regulator plans to publish the findings from its review in September. 

Sharon Witherspoon, vice-president for education and statistical literacy at the RSS, said: "We are glad that the Office for Statistics Regulation has listened to our call for an urgent review into the process for developing the statistical models used by exam regulators.

"The lack of transparency around the process has not only caused significant distress for thousands of students, it has threatened to undermine public trust in statistics and their use. It is therefore right that the Office for Statistics Regulation looks into these issues to ensure this does not happen again."