Examinations 2020 – Inconsistencies in examinations and its impact student progression

Following on from yesterday’s triple lock announcements, we are seeing the full impact on the class on 2020. In England 36% of students have received a lower grade and a further 3% by were down by two grades. In Northern Ireland grades have been lowered by 37% and in Wales 42%.

We are learning from many teachers, students and their families that their teacher estimated grades are not in line with the results received today. Our members speak of the unfairness when a higher achieving cohort has been downgraded and a cohorts where some have been downgrades one to two grades for no apparent reason. 

NSEAD members have reported many inconsistencies in their results and how the inconsistencies cannot be accounted for.

One NSEAD member shared that her department had 50% of their grades reduced by one or two grades. 

Another member has reported that the despite teaching a higher achieving cohort this year, the majority of grades have been reduced – so much so that they look more like the results from the last year. The teacher reports that given this year’s cohort was much stronger, it feels really unfair.

In schools with small art and design classes, teacher predicted grades have been accepted and therefore students' grades have stayed the same. Despite the Government’s data regarding equities (noted below), we ask will smaller schools have benefited from this year's assessment procedures?


Trends in art and design completions

For art and design the numbers have fallen from 42,307 to 41,837. But overall number of A level qualifications taken has fallen again this year. As a percentage of the overall sat, they have increased from 5.3% to 5.4%. 

There are national differences with Wales seeing an overall fall (from 5.9 to 5.5 percent). In England and Northern Ireland both nations have seen overall a very slight percentage increase, (from 5.3% to 5.4%) and (3.0 to 3.1%) respectively.

Gender differences

There continues to be more female completions that boys, indeed the gender difference has slightly increased:

In 2019, 3.0% of boys completed art and design, in 2020 this stayed the same 3.0%. 

In 2019, 7.1% of girls completed art and design, in 2020 this has increased to 7.2%

Achievement and gender differences 

In 2019 9.6% of boys achieved an A*. In 2020, 10.1% of boys achieved the same grade – a 0.5% increase.

In 2019, 13% of girls achieved an A*. In 2020, 14% of girls achieved the same grade – a 1% increase. This shows that more the gender divide in terms of achievement has grown.

Data for 2020 can be downloaded here


The BBC report that for the top grades of  A* and A. They report: 'Independent schools in England saw the greatest improvement on last year – up 4.7 percentage points. 

'This compares with a 1.7, 2 and 0.3 percentage points improvement for top grades for England's academies, comprehensives and colleges respectively.' The data source confirming these sector differences are in Ofqual's interim report, page 136, Table 9.10.

However, Ofqual report that they have analysed variables between 2018 and 2019, and 2019 and 2020 and that differing socio-economic groups have not been disadvantaged. They state:

‘We have conducted equalities analyses to consider whether any demographic or socio-economic groups of students have been advantaged or disadvantaged by the process of awarding grades this summer. This has included a consideration of gender, ethnicity, free school meal eligibility (FSM), English as an additional language (EAL) students, socioeconomic status (SES) and special educational needs (SEN). We considered the extent to which the relationship between results and student background variables in 2018 and 2019 would be maintained in the 2020 outcomes.

The analyses conducted shows no evidence that this year’s process of awarding grades has introduced any systemic bias. Changes in overall outcomes for students with different protected characteristics and from different socio-economic backgrounds are similar to changes seen between 2018 and 2019.’ 

More information on this years' published by Ofqual can be seen here


AS levels

Across the UK numbers AS level completions continue to fall. Last year there were 8064 (4.2%) completions, this year there are 6148 (4.0%).


Our call for change

Earlier this week, NSEAD responded to comments from Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and Minister for State for School Standards, Nick Gibb MP, concerning the return of all pupils to schools. We called for our Government to show real leadership and direction, decisions based on robust evidence, clear communications and adequate resources. And, to navigate the disastrous effects of this pandemic we ask this once again – our school communities and the next generation urgently need this now. 


Michele Gregson, NSEAD General Secretary, said: 

Yesterday, it became clear that the students of 2020 would bear the consequences of a failure of leadership by our Government. Schools were students were presented with the chaotic knee-jerk reactions of the UK Government. Both Nick Gibb and Gavin Williamson MP, Secretary of State for Education, have refused to apologise or review arrangements for awarding grades, instead offering the hollow reassurance of ‘triple lock’ safety nets that are full of holes.

The Government claim that the standardisation model has worked. ‘Rampant grade inflation’ has been averted. But at what cost? What should our priority be? 

We call again for real leadership from the Government. That means ethical, humane and with the humility to accept that their determination to make notional ‘national standards’ a higher priority than the needs of our young people was wrong. 

Unmoderated art and design teacher assessments are not ideal. However, the system for standardisation has not worked – worse it has caused harm. NSEAD proposes that the ‘triple lock’ safety net be abandoned, that grades should now be awarded based on teacher assessment, is the least worst option for English schools.

It is clear that the system used has created an assessment bias favouring, in terms of attainment, very specific socio-economic groups. The system has advantaged students in independent schools who have achieved more A and A*s and has disadvantaged students in state education. As students enter higher education and apprenticeships, where grades decide places, we cal on he Government to urgently review the system.'

Today our young people have been let down. A huge number of students have received lower grades than their teachers had calculated. In a way that we have not seen before, the voice of young people has been heard in news reports across the media, and we are hearing the real stories and hurt that lie behind that statistic. In the words of one student today:

“My future is looking bleak, in terms of education....”

We have a duty to restore the confidence of young people. They have invested their entire school career in the results they received today. We have to do better.