by Rebecca Brooks
AUK Education Policy Advisor

With summer examinations cancelled across the UK, qualifications and assessment authorities have been focusing on the urgent question of how to award grades fairly to all students.

In England, Ofqual (the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation) issued a consultation at the end of April to gather views on its proposals to award grades based on teacher assessment. Adoption UK’s response focused on the necessity for Ofqual to consider the specific needs of all care-experienced children in its planning.

The proposals included an equality impact assessment and a literature review of research on the effects of teacher bias on protected groups. However, neither the risk assessment, nor the literature review included looked after or previously looked after children in its scope.

The Department for Education in England has previously recognised the disadvantage faced by care-experienced children, introducing Pupil Premium Plus and the provision of additional oversight through the Virtual School Head in each local authority in an attempt to counteract it. Research carried out by Become in 2018 (Teachers Who Care) highlighted that the majority of teachers had not received good quality initial teacher training in the needs of care-experienced students, a fact that was confirmed in Adoption UK’s Top of the Class report, which focused on designated teachers. Teachers Who Care also stated that 87% of teachers had heard at least one colleague express a negative generalisation about children in care.

Adoption UK has serious concerns about the potential for teacher bias and low expectations impacting on the awarding of grades for care-experienced students. We called on Ofqual to carry out a full assessment on the impact of teacher assessment on looked after and previously looked after children, and ensure that this group is included in all measures taken to limit the impact of potential bias in centre assessment grades.

Our response also highlighted the particular disadvantage faced by home educated children. According to Adoption UK research, each year approximately 7-8% of adopted children are home educated, and the overwhelming majority are not in school because their parents are unable to find a school that could meet their child’s needs, the child has been threatened with permanent exclusion, or has been excluded. More than 80% of home educating adoptive parents would prefer their child to be in school.

Adopted children who are home educated are likely to have special educational needs, including education health and care plans. The majority have already been seriously failed by the education system. Now, those who have coaxed their children through the necessary steps to prepare for examinations without the support of a school, risk their children missing out on any recognition for all their work, and facing delays to their future progress.

We called on Ofqual to undertake extraordinary measures to ensure that every child who was entered for examinations in the summer 2020 series is awarded a grade this summer, alongside their peers. Failing to do so risks discriminating against a group of children who are already disproportionately disadvantaged.