Hackney’s London Assembly Member issues warning over ‘unconscious bias’ in 2020’s A Level grading

London Assembly education chair Jennette Arnold. Pictures: London Assembly (inset) and Mike Brooke

London Assembly education chair Jennette Arnold. Pictures: London Assembly (inset) and Mike Brooke - Credit: LA/Mike Brooke

The London Assembly Member representing Hackney has warned that “unconscious bias” in this year’s A Level grading system could disadvantage BAME students.

Jennette Arnold

Jennette Arnold - Credit: Archant

Due to the disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic, students could not take their exams and instead exam boards and Ofqual - the regulator of qualifications, exams and assessments in England - awarded grades based on predictions and moderation.

In a letter to education secretary Gavin Williamson and Ofqual, Jennette Arnold said the downgrading of 125,000 results in Scotland will have added to “significant amount of stress and anxiety” on young people in the run up to results day.

Ms Arnold said: “Recent events have only heightened my concerns that those from disadvantaged and BAME backgrounds will still be placed at a disproportionate risk of being downgraded.

READ MORE: A Level 2020: Hackney students receive results amid coronavirus pandemic“Unconscious bias plays a big role in this, and so it is crucial that the appeals process is opened up to students as well as schools.”

In the letter, she wrote: “By its very nature, teachers and schools may not recognise their own unconscious bias, which means students must have access to an independent and timely process to raise this issue.”

Ofqual answered asserting teachers are best placed to determine if a grade needs to be challenged.

Sally Collier, Ofqual’s chief regulator, wrote: “We know that some students, and groups representing students, were concerned that some centre assessment grades and rank order positions could be influenced by bias or discrimination.

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“The national results do not indicate bias on the part of schools and colleges; early analysis suggests there will generally be no widening of gaps between results of different groups of students.”

She noted, however, that individual cases of discrimination will be taken “very seriously”.

Mr Williamson stressed hundreds of thousands of students will be able to go to their first-choice university: “This year we’ve seen an increase of 2.5 percentage points in A* and A grades and more than 96pc of grades are either the same as the one submitted by schools or colleges or within one grade.

“Standardisation ensures grades are fair for students - without it, we would see results that were substantially inflated, significantly undermining their value.”

He also highlighted the government’s “triple lock” - in which students can either accept their calculated grade, appeal using a mock result or sit an exam in the autumn.