Wealthier parents put pressure on teachers over exam grades in England, research finds

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The parents of privately educated children in England were found to be twice as likely to put pressure on teachers over exam grades than those from the most deprived areas, according to new research.

Some 23% of teachers working at private schools in England said that one or more parents had approached or pressured them over their child's grades during the past academic year.

There was evidence of a social gap between state schools, however. Of the teachers working at state schools in the most affluent areas of England, 17% said they had been pressured by parents over grades. By comparison, just 11% of teachers working at schools in disadvantaged areas had been approached by parents.

This was according to a poll of 3,221 teachers in England published on Thursday. The research was conducted by Sutton Trust, an educational charity focused on social mobility.

The closure of schools last year due to the coronavirus pandemic resulted in the cancellation of GCSE and A-Level exams, which are the U.K.'s high school and pre-college exams.

When exams were cancelled once again in 2021, teachers were put in charge of determining grades based on a number of alternative assessment factors such as mock exam grades, homework, as well as other forms of tests like "mini-exams" and open book exams.

However, the Sutton Trust poll found a disparity between how England's most affluent students and its most deprived were being assessed. It found independent schools were more likely than state schools to use a wider variety of assessments to determine grades.

In addition, over half of teachers working in England's most deprived schools felt that they had received insufficient support to decide students' grades versus 44% of those working in the schools in the wealthiest areas of the country.

'Never going to be perfect'

The Sutton Trust's report also looked at the views of students applying to college this year, using market research firm YouthSight to poll 497 U.K. students in April.

Fewer students said they felt like their A-Level grades would be harmed by the disruption this year than in 2020. However, 22% of students still felt that their grades would be worse than in a typical year.

The Sutton Trust research and policy officer Erica Holt-White, who co-authored the report, said the charity strongly encouraged colleges to give additional consideration to students who had narrowly missed the grades they required to get onto their chosen degree course this year, given the unequal impact of the pandemic on learning.

U.K. students are due to receive their A-Level grades on August 10, while high school students are set to find out their GCSE exam results on August 12. Holt-White said that without exams, "this year's assessments were never going to be perfect, and it is likely that we will again see students left unhappy with their results."

"What is vital now is that universities and schools do all they can to ensure that these students, especially those from the poorest backgrounds, do not unfairly lose out because of it," she added.

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