Two in five disadvantaged students are not convinced they will receive fair grades under the teacher assessment system

More than a third of the students also believe they will not receive the required grades for their chosen career path. Credit: PA

Two in five disadvantaged students in England are not convinced they will receive fair grades that will reflect their ability, under the teacher assessment awarding system this summer, according to a report.

52% of high grading poorer pupils are not confident they will be able to appeal against grades they believe to be wrong, a survey by the Social Mobility Foundation (SMF) charity suggests.

More than a third (36%) of young people questioned are not confident they will receive the grades they need for their chosen career path, or to secure a university place this autumn, the poll found.

The findings come after teachers across England have finalised decisions on their pupils’ GCSE and A-level grades after this summer’s exams were cancelled for the second year in a row.

Teachers are able to draw on a range of evidence when determining pupils’ grades this summer, including mock exams, coursework, and in-class assessments using questions by exam boards.

But the poll, which included more than 1,300 high-achieving disadvantaged sixth formers across the UK, found 38% are not confident they personally will receive fair grades reflective of their ability.

The charity is calling for all UK governments to ensure all Year 13 pupils can repeat a year if deemed appropriate by their schools, and those opting to take exams in the autumn – rather than accepting their teacher-assessed grades – can do so free of charge.

Usual exams will not be happening this year, instead teachers will decide grades using mock exams, coursework, and in-class assessments. Credit: PA

It adds that ministers in England and Wales should review the grounds available to appeal to account for specific challenges disadvantaged pupils have faced.

The charity, which aims to make practical improvements in social mobility for young people from low-income backgrounds, questioned 1,578 students taking part in the SMF programmes.

All the students questioned – from Year 12 up to university undergraduates – are high academic performers and the majority have been eligible for free school meals (FSMs), the charity said.

The survey also found the majority (58%) of students felt that not all parts of the country had suffered equally because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

More than a third (35%) did not have access to reliable broadband during lockdown, it suggests.

Sarah Atkinson, chief executive of the SMF, said: “This is a real test for the Government’s commitment to levelling up.

“The pandemic has not affected this country equally and has hit young people from disadvantaged backgrounds the hardest.

“While the process for assessment this year has sought to address inequalities, young people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are at a distinct disadvantage.

“They have missed out on more school time and are less likely to have access to reliable internet, a laptop and a quiet place to study and yet the appeals process does not account for this at all.”

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Alan Milburn, chairman of the SMF, said: “We cannot afford to get this wrong again. Disadvantaged young people have already disproportionality suffered during the pandemic.

“Levelling up cannot happen without a level playing field. If the Government is truly committed to prioritising the most disadvantaged, they must have an appeal process that recognises that the pandemic has had a disproportionate effect on those from poorer backgrounds.”

Dr Michelle Meadows, deputy chief regulator at Ofqual, said: “The resulting teacher-assessed grades are the fairest way to award results in the circumstances and to reflect differences in content covered by students.

“Teachers are best placed to make those professional judgments and decide from a range of choices available what is the most suitable evidence to use when grading their pupils, from exam questions to coursework.

“Although the picture is mixed, there is independent evidence that lost learning during the pandemic has affected disadvantaged students."

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Teachers know their students best, so we enabled them to choose the evidence they use to assess students – ranging from coursework, classwork and mock questions – and only covering topics which have been taught.

“There will also be a range of internal and external quality assurance checks, and an appeals process where students think there has been an error. Students also have the opportunity to sit exams in autumn and Year 13s will be able to repeat part or all of the year if they feel they have been adversely impacted by the pandemic.”