Parents placing pressure on teachers to award high grades ‘could be malpractice’

Eleanor Busby, PA Education Correspondent
·3-min read

Schools should keep records of incidents where parents or students have pressurised teachers to submit higher grades as it could be treated as malpractice, England’s exams regulator has said.

Ofqual has warned that exam boards may intervene where “inappropriate pressure” has been placed on teachers making judgments on pupils’ grades.

Teachers in England will decide GCSE and A-level grades after this summer’s exams were cancelled for the second year in a row.

Schools and colleges are likely to face external quality assurance checks from exam boards if their results “are considerably lower or higher than recent years”, the latest guidance from the watchdog suggests.

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The exams regulator is urging teachers to question whether any of their judgments might be affected by factors not based on evidence of performance “such as unconscious beliefs or types of bias”.

Judgments should not be affected by a student’s behaviour, “character or personality, appearance, performance of their siblings, parental opinions or the knowledge of grades needed to meet a university offer”, the guidance adds.

It says: “Centres should be careful to avoid teachers being put under pressure from students, parents or carers to submit grades that are higher than the evidence supports.

“Heads of centre should keep records of such cases and might be required to report to the exam boards any cases where they believe inappropriate pressure is being put on teachers.

“Exam boards may treat such cases as potential malpractice.”

Last week, Ian Bauckham, interim chair of Ofqual, said teachers’ decisions about what grades to award GCSE and A-level pupils should not be up for negotiation with parents or students.

Mr Bauckham told heads it would be “wrong and fundamentally unfair” if judgments were subject to interference by people “with a vested interest”.

His comments came after the president of the Association of School and College Leaders warned that parents with “pointy elbows and lawyer friends” could widen the equality gap if they apply pressure to teachers deciding grades.

The guidance says headteachers will have to declare that they are confident that judgments are fair and they “have not been influenced by pressure from students, parents or carers”.

If the overall A-level and GCSE results look “very different” to recent years, schools and colleges should record the reasons for the change as exam boards may require this during external checks.

It adds: “Exam boards will target their quality assurance based on a number of factors, including where a centre’s results are considerably lower or higher than recent years.”

In guidance on making judgments in awarding grades this summer, Ofqual tells teachers to be aware of “unconscious effects on objectivity”.

A student’s sex, race, religion, disability status, gender reassignment or sexual orientation, as well as their social background or socio-economic status, should not affect teachers’ judgments, the watchdog says.

The guidance adds: “Without always realising it, everyone holds unconscious beliefs about others. These can be based on things like social factors or identities of others, as detailed above.

“There is a risk that objective judgments can be affected by unconscious beliefs and other types of bias.”