Robust assessment data for confidently generating centre assessed grades

Public examinations are another casualty of the pandemic.  The 2020 cohort saw centre assessed grades generated, by using the full range of available evidence to generate a fair and objective judgement of the grade each student would have got if the exams had been sat, along with a rank order of students [1].  This information can only be generated with professional judgement underpinned by robust assessment data.  So, where can we get this data from?

Public exams did not occur in 2020, although plans in England are to continue with Public examinations in 2021 (at time of writing) with some reduction to the content tested in some subjects.[2]

With the recent changes to GCSEs there has been more focus on terminal assessment and the side-lining of modular courses and controlled assessment (coursework).  This means that students can perform poorly in terms of in-class observations, homework and topic tests, but if they pull it out of the bag in the terminal exam, they can still bag the top grades.  But, with the pandemic, this approach has posed a problem for the generation of centre assessed grades. 

Past papers

Past papers are an obvious choice as they are perfectly balanced in terms of the different types of exam questions, focus on required practicals and mathematical skills.  A formal mark scheme allows comparison between different centres.  With the published grade boundaries allowing confidence in determining the grade that is awarded.

However, past papers are freely available on exam board websites and motivated students will use this as a resource to help prepare for assessments.  On occasion, I have marked work that is the mark scheme regurgitated and while it is an impressive feet, in that the candidate learnt the mark scheme wholesale, they will not have access to the mark scheme for their actual exams and therefore are likely to obtain an inflated result.

So, why not use the 2020 series, that is available on the secure part of the exam board website?  This means that the candidate will have an unseen paper, but has the drawback of not having a formal mark scheme available until later in the year.  Subject specialists can make a department mark scheme, allowing the ranking of students to be possible within your school.  Then you could also use grade boundaries generated from the mean boundaries for all the years of the examination to provide a grade for each student.  When the official mark scheme and grade boundaries are released, it would also be possible to re-mark these papers in a different colour to generate grades.

Kerboodle topic tests

Kerboodle has topic tests which are balanced in terms of required practical and mathematical skills.  They also have a foundation and higher tier.  They have been written by subject experts and undergone review by teacher reviewers as well as trialled in schools before they were published.

Kerboodle for Centre Assessed Grades blog
GCSE Combined Science: Trilogy test score converter is available on Kerboodle to convert test scores to grades.

In the assessment section of Kerboodle, an excel spreadsheet is available to input the names of students and their raw scores and the approximate grade are then generated.  This helpful spreadsheet has been written under the guidance of the assessment editor, using knowledge about exam grade boundaries.


Assessments can be made from a database of questions such as exampro, this allows students to have ‘unseen’ papers and the tests being tailored to the topics that have been delivered.  Preparing your own assessments takes more professional time and unless the whole department adopt the same tests it is difficult to rank the students.  It is easy to search databases on topic or question type, but it can be difficult to get the ratio of mathematical and required practicals into each assessment. 

A grade converter can be useful to generate an approximate grade using professional judgement and historical boundaries.  However, these are only estimates and discretion is advised when using them.

Foundation (%)Higher (%)Approximate GCSE Grade
30 1
40 2
50 3

Professional judgement

Professional judgement is the key to determining attainment.  Using the learning outcomes in the OUP teacher books coupled with checkpoint follow-up can help us visualise the ability that a student should demonstrate for each grade.  When we report on the attainment of a student, whether it is for a report or for a centre assessed grade we just need to ensure that we can back up our hunches with data.



Sam Holyman for Centre Assessed Grades blog

Sam Holyman is Second in Science at Aylesford School in Warwick, and formerly West Midlands ASE President. She is also the author of a number of best-selling science textbooks for KS3 and GCSE (including the AQA GCSE Foundation: Combined Science Trilogy and Entry Level Certificate Student Book), and a keen advocate of innovative teaching and learning.

Sam was nominated in the Teacher Scientist category for the Science Council’s 100 leading practising scientists, is a Chartered Science Teacher, and has a CPD Quality mark.