Grades Blog

“Invidious”: 2 in 5 think top grades were easier in 2021

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Over two in five people think students had an easier time achieving top grades at GCSE and A level this year, according to a new poll.

The poll of 2,000 people, by Nortstat, found 43% of respondents said top grades were easier in 2021. However, nearly a third believed they were harder because of the disruption to students’ education caused by Covid.

School leaders have advised the public to ignore headlines about grade inflation and said comparing this year’s results with previous grades is “invidious”.

The new poll aimed to gauge public opinion of this year’s results, which were based on teacher-assessed grades after exams were cancelled by the government because of Covid. 

18% of respondents thought it was “much easier” than usual to achieve top grades this year, but 28% thought it was harder.

Of those who thought it was easier, 78% cited the lack of exam pressure and 49% said it was the lack of external marking that made the difference.

73% of those who thought it was harder blamed disruption to students’ education during lockdown, while 63% said it was the stress caused by Covid.

Students achieved a record proportion of top grades this year, with 19.1% of A-Level entries scoring an A*, up from 14.3% in 2020.

But Geoff Barton of the Association of School and College Leaders said it was “invidious” to compare this year’s grades with grades awarded via a completely different form of assessment.

And Paul Whiteman of the National Association of Head Teachers said students should be proud of what they had achieved in such challenging circumstances, that staff had gone above and beyond to ensure that the system was fair, and that the grades were a true reflection of students’ work.

“There are no algorithms this year,” he said, “just human effort and human expert judgement. Students should be confident that they have received the grades they deserve.”

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