HoDSciSci March Roundtable: Teacher Assessed Grades

March brings us to the elephant in the room of most HoDs minds: Teacher Assessed Grades. As it stands there is still woefully little specificity and guidance from The Powers That Be. We thought the best we could do is get a few HoDs to share their thoughts and plans for Teacher Assessed Grades (TAGs). All plans are subject to change and we are eternally grateful for our HoDs for taking the time to share, given how incredibly busy we all are. If you have any questions or feedback please get in touch via twitter @HodSciSci, using the hashtags #HoDSciSci #TeacherAssessedGrades.

Adam Robbins

How are you planning on doing your teacher assessment (and can you give a brief rationale)?

We have a decent paper 1 mock set from November. We are thinking of using adapted papers for a paper 1+2 assessment around end of May (changing the numbers to prevent memorising markschemes).

Are you expecting similar outcomes to 2020?

I think there will be more inflation than last time across the system. But we have historic data and a decent starting point, so we can project relatively accurately what our improvement over the rest of the year would have been and arrive a decent grade distribution. We will also compare between other schools in the MAT

What are your biggest concerns?

Alevel performance is my biggest concern. So many variables at this stage and small sample size means aggregation and trends over the years are pointless.

People misunderstanding how assessment works and what GCSE grades actually are will also drive inequality between schools. There is a huge CPD need to stop teachers looking at little Billies powerstation essay, awarding it a grade 6 and then giving them a grade 6 overall!

I’m basically more worried about other schools than my own as I don’t want to disadvantage our students due to others generosity/incompetence.

What do you see the role of the HoD in this process?

Holding SLT at bay. They may want to solve all the problems and design a complex system that creates a mirage of certainty. HoDs job is to look at the practical implications and ask two questions;

1. Can this be done? 

2. Will it tell me anything I don’t know?

Adapting the initial plan to make it work for science will be key. Managing up will be a key skill.

Do you have a sixth form? If so does this impact your decision making?

We have to think very carefully about the awarding of a grade 6, which is our entry requirement. In some ways this helps us award our TAGs. We can look at the students in the area of grade 6 an ask ‘would they be able to access Alevel if they wanted to?’

Have you received any parental or student pressure yet? 

No. Although some Year 13 students are very keen to know where they stand.

How far will school’s P8 measure factor into grades awarded?

We know our trajectory of improvement as a department and the early data suggests we would be able to secure a positive progress 8 from this cohort. Although this is not a true P8, due to the algorithm being from 2019, it will give us a final check at the overall awarded grades to see if they are around the right level.

What things constitute ‘strong’ evidence in your opinion?

Any data from our November mocks. Other assessments that are of a decent length (45 marks +) and cover a range of the course. I wouldn’t view ‘topic tests’ as robust enough.

How will you protect your staff from ‘revenge’ harassment from students unhappy with their grade?

The process needs to involve teachers, but the decisions need to be mine. With a transparent logic I feel we can deal with any unhappy students who wish to raise concerns over their grade.

Will your Head of Centre be able to sign off that students have studied enough science to progress? How much is enough?

I am expecting to cover the syllabus for year 11. I see the syllabus as a right for each student so we will prioritise that over ‘booster’ sessions.

Liam Fishwick

How are you planning on doing your teacher assessment (and can you give a brief rationale)?

We have solid paper 1 set from November as we completed mocks before we broke up. We’re planning to do another assessment covering content taught from exam papers adapted to reduce mark scheme memorisation effect as much as possible. These will be sat in a window at the end of April early May. We’ll also do some more questions on bits we couldn’t fit into the main window in the classroom.

Are you expecting similar outcomes to 2020?

Likely that nationally there will be some inflation, but given we have good trajectory data from previous years and mocks I think we should be relatively similar to 2019/2020. We can also compare within the MAT to allow for calibration on what we’ve achieved before. Useful to help provide as many tying points as possible. A level is a bigger issue. Small classes, very different cohorts and not the same ability to tie across MAT means this is a much more difficult task. There is also an even greater effect on student futures for the A level cohort as well.

What are your biggest concerns?

National inflation and lack of agreed standard for grades could lead to larger gaps nationally and potential disadvantaging own students because other schools are less rigorous.

What do you see the role of the HoD in this process?

To provide the link between the SLT desires for the whole school and what will be right for students and science. Engaging in discussion with SLT to make sure that views on curriculum are heard and the well-being of staff and students is kept at front of thoughts. Cannot be burning everyone out by assessing constantly and having an overly complex system that won’t provide any better information than something less complex.

Do you have a sixth form?

Yes we do.

If so does this impact your decision making?

No, I am trying to maintain integrity in production of the grades such that students that should progress can do and that we are not disadvantaging students in this system.

Have you received any parental or student pressure yet? 

No. Only questions but the sort of sensible questions we would expect. The SLT are handling any queries that could become pressure so have not had anything directly, nor would I expect any pressure for specific grades from my cohort.

How far will school’s P8 measure factor into grades awarded?

Early data was suggesting (using previous coefficients of course) that we would be on track to being positive overall. I expect that we will make good use of comparisons with our past performance and the current cohorts at similar places to help look at what our overall outcomes would likely have been.

What things constitute ‘strong’ evidence in your opinion?

Previously unseen assessments that have been completed in person in school. Nothing remote at all, and the strongest we would have currently is from November mocks. All assessments that cover a large number of topics rather than just topic tests are considered strong enough in my opinion.

How will you protect your staff from ‘revenge’ harassment from students unhappy with their grade?

The process is being clearly laid out to students and there are many levels of internal QA. While teachers will contribute, final decisions on grades at subject level will be mine. Clearly communicating in advance through the whole school to how we will be arriving at these grades (initial statements for timescales and likely evidence have already been shared but at time of writing final guidance from boards is still not out).

Will your Head of Centre be able to sign off that students have studied enough science to progress? 

We will have covered essentially the entire syllabus for y11. There will be some trimming for assessment purposes but yes we expect that students have studied enough to progress.

David Gash

  1. How are you planning on doing your teacher assessment (and can you give a brief rationale)?

    I have asked my teaching staff to submit a teacher assessed grade during the week beginning 15th March to our internal tracking sheet. This is based on the staff’s knowledge of the pupils prior attainment in mocks and their attitudes to learning. This has provided a realistic starting point for our decision making process and will hopefully reduce the chance of highly anomalous data points. Our next step is to produce and administer 3 assessments during the half term after Easter. The scores for these will be totalled and then grades awarded based on the overall difficulty of the papers and the grading profile from our 2020 outcomes so that we do not deviate too much from what we would have been expected to achieve. Staff will then need to consider this evidence in line with their previous evidence to arrive at a best fit grade. Thankfully we made the decision to produce our own assessments nice and early so that we can press on with preparing our pupils. Waiting until Easter for information about exam materials was not ideal in my opinion.

  2. Are you expecting similar outcomes to 2020?

    The year group as a whole is not hugely dissimilar to the previous year group so we feel a similar set of outcomes is fair and reasonable. I would have normally expected to see a slight increase but the impact of COVID on the attendance of this cohort over the past 12 months cannot be totally ignored.
  3. What are your biggest concerns? I have two main concerns. Firstly, how will the late bloomers fare in this adapted approach to assessment? We always end up with some pupils really turning it on in their exams and surprising us all in the nicest of ways! Will they be able to shine in the same way given their prior attendance? Secondly, I want to ensure that all pupils get a realistic chance of progressing to their next destination. (There is a balancing act here in ensuring destinations are realistic for each individual.)
  1. What do you see the role of the HoD in this process?

    Very much quality assurance and the gatekeeper for grading decisions. Most of the staff involved were also involved in 2020 so to have the experience of that under their belt. As HoD I will need to be an unbiased (if there is such a thing) sounding board for their rationale behind their decision making process. 
  2. Do you have a sixth form? If so does this impact your decision making?

    We have a sixth form and we have many of our pupils who intend on staying on in September 2021. At this stage in Y11 we are pretty secure in our knowledge of who is capable of studying A-level and who is not so grading decisions will not be unduly influenced by their destinations for the most part. Those 1 or 2 borderline pupils should , in my opinion, be given the benefit of the doubt as long as there is sufficient evidence to support it. We as a school can support their transition to sixth form accordingly as long as our discussion with the sixth form team and teachers are honest and accurate.

  3. Have you received any parental or student pressure yet?

    Non so far! 🙂
  4. How far will school’s P8 measure factor into grades awarded?

    I work in an RI school whose P8 figure has never peaked above -0.45 so it would be foolish to start awarding grades that would contribute to a figure of +0.85 all of a sudden! We have an acceptable degree of tolerance produced by our own internal data systems which, we feel, allows us to show the improvements we are making as a school without providing false outcomes for pupils.
  5. What things constitute ‘strong’ evidence in your opinion?

    Exam-based data! This is how GCSE grades are determined so I feel this is the best data you can use to measure a pupils performance relative to their peers. The tricky part is designing an assessment tool that is both robust and reflects the intended assessment. Schools are being asked to do something in a matter of weeks that exam boards normally get a year or so to do. I am not critical of the exam boards here but this does put incredible pressure on middle leaders and teachers and will, unfortunately, affect the validity of the grading decisions we take. 
  1. How will you protect your staff from ‘revenge’ harassment from students unhappy with their grade?

    All grading decisions will be quality assured by me and my line manager (also a scientist). Any complaints will have to come through us.

  2. Will your Head of Centre be able to sign off that students have studied enough science to progress? How much is enough?

    Yes. Our pupils will have covered the entire GCSE Specifications during their time with us.

Richard Gale

  1. How are you planning on doing your teacher assessment (and can you give a brief rationale)?

Preset by our deputy academic, existing data (two major pieces done in lockdowns so questionable quality in the data. short GCSE’s/ A-levels covering this year’s content only for end of May assessments.

2. Are you expecting similar outcomes to 2020?

Actually higher, with the OFQUAL announcement form the webinar pupils will have access to the questions and answers which we could use. With the limited topics we can set (see above) relatively straightforward for pupils to have already seen all of the questions. Pupils will be given the grade they achieve in these exams. 

3. What are your biggest concerns?

See answer to point 2. Also that there are additional pressures on pupils and teachers. 

4. What do you see the role of the HoD in this process?

Take the pressure off staff and pupils as much as possible. 

5. Do you have a sixth form? If so does this impact your decision making?

Yes we have a sixth form. Last year we spoke a lot about progression. This year less so. My worry is more inflation. 

6. Have you received any parental or student pressure yet? 

Yes, we have already had requests for data we hold on pupils. 

7. How far will school’s P8 measure factor into grades awarded?

Little this year, hence my concern. 

8. What things constitute ‘strong’ evidence in your opinion?

Evidence from EOY and EOT tests, with an opportunity for pupils to exceed this with an assessment in the summer.

9. How will you protect your staff from ‘revenge’ harassment from students unhappy with their grade?

Any contact from pupils of parents is forwarded straight to the head and line manager. I intend to do my bit by stressing the limited role class teachers will play in the decision. Pupils have the opportunity though their performances. 

20. Will your Head of Centre be able to sign off that students have studied enough science to progress? How much is enough?

We have completed the course, successful guided home learning on teams. 

Victoria Judge

1.How are you planning on doing your teacher assessment (and can you give a brief rationale)?

We have a mock result from November which is our most robust evidence to date. The school also arranged a second mock exam period running 1st-15th March. To make the assessments more worthwhile, we ran them 8th-15th March so they would not have to be done remotely. Unfortunately, it does mean that students returning after lockdown were greeted almost immediately with assessments. I think the lack of face-to-face preparation and the long period of lockdown in the run-up to these mocks, will result in lower outcomes than the November assessments, but for some students, it is providing useful additional evidence. We are due to run another assessment period shortly after Easter which I think will yield more realistic results than the March one. All the papers we have used were ‘secure’ from the exam board, although with schools running mocks at all different times and in different ways, just how ‘secure’ these actually are, is questionable.

2. Are you expecting similar outcomes to 2020?

I am expecting a roughly similar spread of results within the department as a whole, but at qualification level, we will probably see some change. The 2020 cohort had one separate science class, whereas this year we only have combined science so I think that will affect the spread of our results. I think results nationally will see more inflation than last year, and I am interested to see how publically accessible exam board resources might feed into this.

3. What are your biggest concerns?

A general lack of consistency in methods for grading nationally, coupled with a lack of understanding of assessment. I fear that other schools may apply too much weighting to ungradeable coursework and the rigour of assessment will be lost in some schools, disadvantaging others who use more valid assessment inferences. Lack of secure assessment materials, even those that are supposed to be secure. 

4. What do you see the role of the HoD in this process?

To quality-assure the process of awarding grades and to ensure that there is strong evidence and rationale behind all the grades awarded in science. Also, to be the subject specialist in discussions with SLT around where the best evidence will come from, and what types of work can or cannot be “graded”.

5. Do you have a sixth form? If so does this impact your decision making?

We do, but we do not have Science courses running this year. 

6. Have you received any parental or student pressure yet? 

I have not received any pressure from students or parents, but I have been asked by many students what their Teacher Assessed Grade is going to be so that they can fill in Sixth Form applications. Every time I am asked, I have to explain that the most recent reported forecast is what they should use and this has caused some stress to students who are convinced that other schools are informing their students of the TAGs already!

7. How far will school’s P8 measure factor into grades awarded?

Our trajectory from historical data shows that we are improving our outcomes year on year, but I am not expecting our results to suddenly jump up this academic year. A comparison with previous P8 data will show if we are being reasonable with our Teacher Assessed Grades and that they are reflective of what we would have been expecting this year anyway. 

8. What things constitute ‘strong’ evidence in your opinion?

Data generated from exam papers, taken in exam conditions, covering a broad range of subject content. This is why we have used previously unseen assessments for your evidence so far. I don’t think end of topic tests are particularly robust and class work, I feel is useless in terms of awarding a grade. This is why I think the important part of a HoD’s role is to be the specialist in discussion with SLT. Other subjects may be able to use essay-based questions for example. It is important that science departments and senior leaders share an understanding of how GCSE grades are awarded and what this means for finding the strongest evidence within our subject area. 

9. How will you protect your staff from ‘revenge’ harassment from students unhappy with their grade?

Any complaints will need to come to me and to my line manager. I would not expect any teaching staff to have to deal with complaints as the final decision on grading rest with me and my line manager.

10. Will your Head of Centre be able to sign off that students have studied enough science to progress? How much is enough?

Yes. We have a number of students who wish to go on to study further Science, and it is important that those students are well-prepared from their GCSE study. It is also important that all other students have had the same opportunity for learning the content in the specifications.

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