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Getting your 2021 TAG process right

Leeds City College’s successful CAG process in 2020 resulted in just 24 appeals out of 29,000 qualifications, of which just 6 were upheld. In this article, Head of English and Maths, Jonny Diamond, and Director Quality of Education, Carol Layall, discuss how they achieved that, and consider the lessons learned to inform the 2021 TAG process.

The most important thing for Leeds City College was that the allocation of the Centre Assessed Grades was carried out with integrity and accuracy, and the moderation process ensured that the grades submitted to the awarding bodies were a true reflection of what the students had achieved and what the teachers had achieved in teaching those students.

So, the change in the methodology for the allocation of grading resulted in very few students being downgraded at Leeds City College. The appeals procedure was issued to students on result day to ensure a clear process was communicated to them, and the college received 24 appeals, with only six been upheld and progressed to the awarding bodies.

[Watch the full account from Carol and Jonny]

Key measures that were implemented to drive the college's process

Carol and the Central Quality Team started out by looking at their three year data trend – the college had been on an improvement journey for the last three years, improving their English and maths provision, and it was important that the grade improvement was reflected in the CAGs.

They looked at past and high grades and considered that across each department across the college. They also looked at the progress scores from each grade boundary and considered these against the departments and then also looked at the progress that had been made towards those grades in-year. Notably, they didn't put a progress cap on each department - Carol’s team spoke to each department about bias and integrity and encouraged the true reflection of those grades for their students.

On the 23rd of March, they looked at their current position – their BRAG system rag-rates the students against their target grades. So, a minimum target grade of a four for a grade 3 student and then they are rated on their performance throughout the year through a range of checkpoints, start points, mock assessments, formative assessments, et cetera, and then graded red, amber, green or blue (blue if they were exceeding target). After that date, no evidence could then be used.

Removing unconscious bias

The team provided unconscious bias training with staff to make sure that, again, it was a true reflection of the learners and that there were no preconceived ideas around what any individual student should be graded at across 27 head areas.

In not setting a progress cap and really emphasising integrity, the college found through moderation, that teachers were giving fair and honest CAGs to their learners based on the evidence they had of what they predicted the learner could get in the exam. For some departments, their progress went down in a year from the previous year, and some increased. And with those departments, it was then a discussion with the teams to say, “Well, your department's grade is down 12% in your high grade year-on-year - can you please tell us why.” and we saw that the evidence there was strong.

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A three year transformation and an ongoing quality journey

As a college, they had been on a three year journey of changing the model for English and maths provision. In partnership with Tribal’s Quality Mark, Leeds City College had their improvements ‘rubber stamped’, so it was very disappointing to have to move to a CAG process when they were looking forward to hopefully seeing those improvements reflected in the GCSE results.

However, Carol really wanted to make sure that the hard work the college had done, and the progress they had made in conjunction with Quality Mark, was reflected in the CAG process itself.

Jonny explains

“The Quality Mark helps us conduct a very detailed self-reflection and audit of our own departments, our and strengths and weaknesses, and areas for development. And that helped us plan for the CAGS process because we know our areas in detail – we had been through every single element of provision from teachers to learners to stakeholders to parents. So, when it came to the CAG process, we'd already thought about the elements that we have already, and what we needed to improve to make sure we minimised appeals.”

A collaborative and inclusive process

Once Ofqual had decided on the process and communicated that to colleges, the team produced a summary and had meetings with all staff to discuss the process and how they would move it forwards. Teachers were consulted at all time; it was very open and transparent around what we wanted to do, the evidence that they would be allowed to use and the data that they would be provided with to support them with the process.

Carol’s team also ensured a common understanding of the quality process – the internal quality checks that would take place, what responsibility each department would have, what responsibility each Head of Department and Director would have, and ultimately and what responsibility the central quality team would have around ensuring that that process met the quality standards.

So there was a lot of support to the tutors. They also recognized their private candidates and looked at the students that had a tutor or extra support at home and considered how they could include their evidence to grade the students fairly. They also worked closely with the SEND and high needs teams looking at the exam access arrangements that were required for each of the students; what had already been processed and approved; and then factored that into the CAG grade.

A quality assured process

The Central Quality team devised the process and oversaw the moderation using some of the central support from the teaching and learning team, and the exams team to make sure that the process was successful, and that it met the quality requirements. Departmental Heads then looked at their departments, at the CAG grades and compared the data that they'd been given; they looked at the mid-year performance, and then had conversations with their English and maths leads to ensure that they were happy with those grades that were submitted.

Looking ahead to the 2021 TAG process

A key difference this year is that obviously the college is still teaching, and learning is still taking place, although that is in a very different format to the standard classroom face-to-face model. So, the college has been able to follow up on the process of checking students’ learning; they have been able to have mock exams even if they've been online; and they have been able to gather evidence, for all their students, regardless of the mode of delivery.

From 2020 the college has lots of external markers - but with exams being taken away, the required skill-sets have been put on hold for a year. So, to counteract that, all staff are being trained internally by the college’s external markers, and they are running moderating sessions periodically. Departments will have their mock exams, and they can see where the trends are in each department. Additionally, external markers and advanced practitioners will support each department with looking at key areas of risk. So, if they can see that one department is potentially being unduly harsh on one paper, then the moderator can go in and support them. This is all in preparation for when they’re giving TAGs to make sure that every department is standardized. The training is run across the entire college as well as being made available on-demand online. The training is giving teachers the confidence to accurately pinpoint the grade from the assessment.

Jonny explains the benefit of this

“So when there are marginal cases, we've got clear evidence that the staff has done what's right against the mark scheme.”

Key message from the Leeds City College process:

  • Make sure that those communication channels are clear, transparent, and really effective with all levels across the college, with parents, and with students
  • Ensure Heads, teachers, leaders, and support staff are communicating the same message to the students.
  • Closely audit all examination entries for accuracy to minimize any risk of administrative errors later on.
  • Ensure all students are informed of their current position against target grade, looking at where they are on and the college tracking system; looking at where their BRAG rating against their target grade and ensuring that the students know what they need to do to improve that. And being realistic about what potential grade, they're going to achieve.
  • Ensure that all teacher evidence and tracking is up to date and accessible in one place so it’s readily available in case of appeals.

With this process, learners know that it's a holistic view of all the work completed in the year. And it's not just the teacher who is going to give them the grade - it's going to be a team grade as well, where teachers are moderating one another. The learners know that they still have a chance to provide this evidence to the college. The college has not set an arbitrary cut-off date for evidence so learners know that they can still engage with learning, and if they're producing work remotely or in class, this is all evidence that can be used for them. It's why the college has high levels of engagement still because learners know that it's not over and decided.