Stats regulator to review Ofqual algorithm used to award A-Level grades

OSR will consider exam regulators' compliance with its Code of Practice for Statistics, after government U-turn on results
Students outside DfE's Whitehall HQ react to the news of the u-turn on A-Level results. Photo: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire/PA Images

The UK's stats watchdog has said it will conduct a review of the statistical models used by qualifications bodies to award A-Level and other exam results, amid an ongoing row.

The Office for Statistics Regulation said it would also be looking into the processes by which Ofqual and other qualifications regulators decided on the models used to hand out grades to students.

The news comes after a major U-turn, in which the government said it would ditch the controversial algorithm used to calculate this summer’s A-Level and GCSE grades across England.

In a statement on Monday afternoon, Ofqual said “after reflection”, it would instead “award grades on the basis of what teachers submitted”.

Admitting it has “caused real anguish and damaged public confidence”, the regulator said students would either get the result they were predicted "or the moderated grade, whichever is higher".

But in a letter to the Royal Statistical Society, which has been calling for a review, the OSR said there was "still value" in the exercise despite the change in approach.

"OSR therefore plans to undertake a review focused on the process of developing the statistical models. Our review will consider the extent to which the organisations developing the models complied with the principles set out in the Code of Practice for Statistics," Ed Humpherson, its director general for regulation, said.

The probe will aim to "highlight learning from the challenges faced through these unprecedented circumstances", and will not address the implications of the algorithm's use on individual results, he said. Nor will it take a view on the best way to award grades in the absence of exams.

"There are many areas of the approach to awarding exam grades this year that may warrant review and it is likely that other organisations will commission or carry out reviews. We are conscious that too many reviews could be unhelpful and will seek to minimise overlap between our review and others," Humpherson added.

He said the OSR would therefore "try to minimise the burden of our review on organisations involved in awarding exam grades" and would contribute ts findings to other relevant reviews where appropriate.

Responding to the letter, Sharon Witherspoon, RSS vice president for education and statistical literacy, said: “We are glad that the Office for Statistics Regulation has listened to our call for an urgent review into the process for developing the statistical models used by exam regulators.

“The lack of transparency around the process has not only caused significant distress for thousands of students, it has threatened to undermine public trust in statistics and their use. It is therefore right that the Office for Statistics Regulation looks into these issues to ensure this does not happen again.”

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