Private schools facing most pressure from parents over grades

Survey shows 23% of teachers at private schools have felt pressured by parents over this year’s grades, compared to 11% of teachers at state schools in poorer areas

Private schools are facing the most pressure from parents over their child’s exam grades this year compared to other types of schools, according to new research from the Sutton Trust.

This year, teachers are awarding grades to students after exams were cancelled for the second year running due to Covid-19.

At the end of June 2021, Teacher Tapp surveyed 3,221 teachers in schools across England who reported that they were teaching a GCSE or A-level exam class. The survey showed that 23% of teachers at private schools and 17% at state schools in affluent areas said that they had been approached or pressured by parents over their child’s exam grades this year.

The same was true of 11% of teachers at state schools in poorer areas, showing that teachers at more affluent schools are more likely to have been contacted.

This comes after The Sunday Times reported that some private schools have sent pleading letters to universities on behalf of pupils who had dropped a grade.

In awarding grades, teachers have been asked to look at a combination of coursework and ‘mini exams’. However, the Sutton Trust’s research identifies a large variation in the number of assessments being taken by A-level students.

Almost two fifths (38%) of teachers said their pupils were doing three or four mini assessments per subject. While 18% said their pupils were sitting more than six, a similar proportion reported their pupils were sitting two or fewer.

There is also variety in the type of assessments being used, with some schools giving access to questions in advance, or allowing ‘open book’ tests, while others conduct the tests under exam conditions.

The charity’s research also looked at how university applicants are feeling about how the pandemic is affecting their next steps. YouthSight surveyed 463 young people in June who applied to university this year.

The majority of applicants (53%) are worried about being ready to start university this autumn, and 34% feel unprepared to start university. Those from a state school are more than twice as likely to feel unprepared for starting university compared to their independent school peers (36% vs 17%).

The Sutton Trust recommended that schools provide as much support to students as possible around results day and during the clearing period. Students who are the first in their family to attend university or are from disadvantaged backgrounds may need extra support, they said.

The charity also urged universities to give additional consideration to applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds who have narrowly missed their offer grades in light of disruption, and suggested moving to a post qualification application system.

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