RSS responds to inquiry on statistical assessment of grades

***Article updated 21 July 2020 - see end***

The RSS has responded to a call for evidence by the Education Select Committee for its inquiry on the impact of Covid-19 on education and children’s services. 

Our response focuses on the statistical issues relating to the cancellation of formal exams, informed by discussions in the RSS Education Policy Advisory Group, together with the expertise of some of our distinguished fellows in academia.

We are concerned about the lack of clarity and transparency so far provided by Ofqual about its plans for estimating grades. Ofqual intended that exam boards will collect student grade assessments and student rankings from teachers within exam centres, and then use statistical processes to obtain estimated grades for students, for GCSE, AS and A Level grades in 2020. To carry out this task fairly at scale is extremely difficult and unprecedented. Little detail is known about Ofqual’s plans and we would welcome more transparency. We are especially concerned about the collection and use of student rankings, as we believe that there is a high degree of uncertainty about these, particularly for students who were not the very highest and lowest ranked.

Our response gives details of our engagement with Ofqual and sets out issues with data collection/quality and subsequent statistical modelling of anticipated grades.

We believe transparency would enable individuals to have more informed options, and all of society to consider how to fairly acknowledge uncertainty in these unique circumstances. Without greater transparency, we do not believe that the process can be beyond a global appeal as to its fairness or accuracy.

We hope the Committee will consider how to ensure sufficient external constructive challenge for the exam estimation procedure, while accepting that Ofqual must make the final decisions. 

Finally, we anticipate that there needs to be further long-term discussion of the issue of teacher-assigned grades, and how they might be approached in future. The RSS has offered to engage in constructive discussions, either orally or in writing, of the statistical issues involved. 


When the report was published on 11 July, the Education Select Committee said 'we agree with the Royal Statistical Society’s conclusion that “more transparency” is needed urgently' (page 10). Read the Committee's report on exam cancellations and calculated grades and our response to the inquiry.

On 16 July, the RSS also responded to the Ofqual Consultation on proposed changes to the assessment of GCSEs, AS and A levels in 2021.

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