Poorer pupils not disadvantaged by exam outcomes

Ofqual has found there is no evidence that the system for awarding GCSEs and A-levels this year systematically disadvantaged poorer pupils or pupils with protected characteristics.

Ofqual compared this year’s students with those taking qualifications in summer 2018 and 2019. For GCSE and A level, Ofqual's research compares 2020 A level and GCSE outcomes - centre-assessment grades (CAGs), calculated grades and final grades - with results from 2018 and 2019. It broke down results by students’ gender, ethnicity, first language, SEND status, free school meals eligibility and socioeconomic status.

Its evaluation found that had calculated grades been awarded (rather than the final grades awarded), the results would have been more closely in line with the established relationships between student characteristics and outcomes that we see in previous exam results. The changes seen by using final grades are small, however, and do not suggest that any groups of candidates who share particular protected characteristics or socioeconomic status were systemically disadvantaged.

At both GCSE and A level, the most consistent and significant effect was an uplift in outcomes for all groups using CAGs and final grades, but not using calculated grades.

At A level, the attainment gap that had previously seen male candidates outperform female candidates (when other variables are accounted for) narrowed further, having previously narrowed between 2018 and 2019. This suggests the change in the gender attainment gap is a continuation of a trend. This was true for CAGs, calculated grades and final grades.

Ofqual has also published an analysis of grades awarded for a number of vocational and technical qualifications (VTQs) in spring and summer 2020. This research shows that grades awarded to those who sat those VTQs earlier this year were not substantially different to grades from previous years, despite the impact of COVID-19. There was, however, for certain types of qualifications, an increase in the number of top grades being awarded.

For the VTQ report, Ofqual researchers collected data from 33 awarding organisations on all learners who were awarded a grade for a Functional Skills, Other General, or Performance Table Qualification between mid-March and the end of July.

Attainment gaps between different demographic groups did not change or increase in most cases. These analyses do not suggest that any groups of candidates who share particular protected characteristics or socioeconomic status were systemically disadvantaged by the impact of the pandemic and the approach to awarding in 2020.

The overall profile of results for this group of qualifications was broadly in line with normal expectations. Ofqual will continue to monitor VTQ results in the months to come.


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