Objectivity is the ability to see the situation accurately, without the influence of emotion, prejudice, or bias. This learning resource module sets out the considerations assessors should follow to maintain objectivity when determining summer 2021 GCSE, AS and A Level grades.

It’s important that all judgements relating to students’ grades are fair, objective and reasonable. To this end, Ofqual has produced guidance on how to help centres make objective judgements this summer and the JCQ awarding organisations will be providing relevant materials where appropriate.

Objectivity In Assessments

Making Objective Decisions

Making objective decisions is fundamental to fulfilling the principle aims of assessment: fairness, reliability and validity.

Objectivity in the context of assessment is necessary to get an accurate judgement of what a student knows, understands and can do. Objectivity is rooted in observable facts and evidence rather than feelings or opinions.

Maintaining Objectivity

Maintaining objectivity can be challenging when faced with other external factors that can influence decision-making.

Factors that should not affect decision making include:

·      Characteristics protected under equalities legislation

·      A student’s behaviour (positive or negative), character or personality, appearance, performance of their siblings, parental opinions or the knowledge of grades needed to meet a university offer

Raising awareness of unconscious and conscious bias is a vital part of recognising and mitigating the effects of unconscious bias.

A process designed at centre level is the most effective way of ensuring objective and bias-free judgements which is why each centre is being asked to prepare a centre policy. An effective centre policy will draw on, amongst other elements, teacher expertise, training tailored to the context of the individual centre, the use of data to interrogate the attainment of groups of learners and an embedded quality assurance process that challenges preconceptions and ensures that final decisions are not made in isolation.

Impacting Objectivity

Unconscious effects on objectivity

When making decisions about grading teachers need to question any preconceptions they may have about student performance and, in particular, whether teachers:

·      Only notice evidence that fits with pre-existing views of the student

·      Have a view of a student that may hide or accentuate their actual knowledge, skills and abilities

·      Are unduly influenced by the most recent piece of work completed by a student

·      Are influenced by ‘first impressions’ they may have of a student

·      Take account of the full range of performance across everything that has been taught or whether they are being swayed by selective perceptions

·      Take account of each student in their own right, regardless of the performance of their peers.

Conflicts of interest

In relation to conflicts of interest, having an ‘interest’ in something can be regarded as having a stake or involvement in something, which is or could be of some value or benefit. The nature and scope of interests is unlimited. They can be financial or non-financial, direct or indirect, professional, reputational, political, social, or of another type. An indirect interest arises where a person has a close relationship with another person who may potentially benefit from an action or decision, such as a family member or friend.

In terms of assessment and potential conflict of interest, centres should consider carefully how they will mitigate the following potential conflicts to ensure that assessments are fair, reliable and valid:

1.       Familial or close relationship with students such as a family member, a close friend or child of a close friend undertaking an assessment

2.       Internal quality assurer being a close friend or family member of the initial assessor

3.       A member of staff taking the qualification and the impact on a colleague assessing them

4.       Single teacher departments.

Assessors and the Assessment

The role of the assessor and approaches to assessment

In a normal examination series, objectivity is built into the process. Firstly, external assessments are written by subject experts and remain confidential until the day of the examination. Secondly, marking of external assessments, and the moderation of internal assessments, are activities undertaken by independent individuals in accordance with common criteria without any additional information about the person who produced the response.

The arrangements for summer 2021 inevitably mean that there is a relationship between a student and the assessor in a way that would have not previously been the case: the nature of the assessment is not unknown to the student /teacher assessor in advance of the assessment being conducted and the marking of work will be undertaken by an assessor known to the student.

The end-to-end process of determining grades, from deciding a centre’s or department’s approach to assessment through to the submission of grades to the awarding organisation, must promote equality and avoid discrimination and judgements must not be based upon anything other than academic performance in a qualification.

Assessor Thinking

Built into the centre, department and teacher’s thinking should be:

·        A focus on giving equality of opportunity to all students

·        A review of the impact of an assessment approach against outcomes for students who share a particular characteristic: sex, disability, socio-economic status for example.

Be aware that some approaches may favour one group of students over another and internal monitoring using data to report against specific measures can help to identify whether an approach has given equal opportunity to all students. Internal reporting may highlight an issue around performance for students with a protected characteristic for example. This may not be caused by bias in the assessment decision-making process. It may reveal that an approach a centre/department has taken may have had a negative impact on a group of students because of a characteristic — for example, an assessment plan that advocates an approach more suited to one gender over another, or one which gathers evidence from a period of remote learning when some students did not have access to assistive technology.

Many centres will already have in place strategies to reduce the gap in performance for individuals with particular characteristics. It is important to stress that objectivity in making assessment decisions in not an exclusive end-point activity: it is integral to the whole approach. From enhancing engagement with student groups through teaching approaches, individual learning plans for students with additional needs, for example — the effects of which will already be reflected in the evidence and used to promote fairness.

Bias mitigation

Bias mitigation at class level

Some possible approaches:

·        Ensure that you look at only the work/evidence produced by the student — disentangle performance from other knowledge or perceptions of the student

·        Review outcomes considering other pieces of data that can help to highlight any unusual or unexpected patterns

·        Use internal quality assurance processes as a safety net to ensure outcomes are free from bias: anonymised sampling; sampling of targeted profiles (e.g. performance of boys relative to performance of girls, learners with special educational needs and disability provision, students in receipt of free school meals, students from diverse backgrounds etc.)

Bias mitigation at senior leadership level

Some possible approaches:

·       Compare data for different student groups across the cohort

·       Interrogate data from a multi-directional base involving a panel of reviewers

·       Use of data is not enough in itself; teachers’ knowledge of individuals will help disentangle the narrative

·       Look clearly at the evidence and ask questions within a framework — Is this what we expect to see? Are there any anomalies for particular subjects/groups? Is there anything of concern here?


·       Consider tracking individual students across their range of subjects

·       Keep open a discussion about judgements between staff members with different viewpoints