A Webinar with David Blow: Grading in ML examinations

This page gives links to recording, presentation, chat and images relating to the webinar.


ALL London organises webinars for the MFL community and this webinar, held in a Zoom room and also viewable on an unlisted YouTube stream, is open to all MFL teachers.  We hope that you will like us and want to join!

We also thank the presenters, who give freely of their time and expertise.  Where possible, most sessions are recorded and available for viewing later.



This webinar will cover the principles behind the allocation of grades by Ofqual and the exam boards to GCSEs and A-levels in all subjects in this era of “comparable outcomes, and unpick common misconceptions (and consequent risks for misleading information/people) about raw marks, grade boundaries, etc.

It will look at ML (Fr, Gn, Sp) grading, and the longstanding and ongoing issue of “severe grading” at both GCSE and AL, and highlight changes which have been made, and the further changes which are needed, some 50 years on from it first being identified!

With the forthcoming new GCSEs in Fr, Gn, Sp, it is crucial that teachers, senior leaders and others have an accurate understanding of how grading will work, and the differences and similarities with its operation for the current GCSEs


David Blow is an Executive Head and ALL Fellow who has worked for many years with ASCL and CST analysing and explaining exam data, and in particular, highlighting the issue of severe grading and pushing for changes.


Don’t forget to join ALL or renew your membership to ensure you have access to all the great member benefits!  https://www.all-languages.org.uk/join/

Presentation and links to key pages/documents

Many thanks to David for making his presentation available.  Here it is as a downloadable pdf: ML grading webinar as used

A link to the ‘severe grading’ page hosted on ALL London’s website: https://all-london.org.uk/severe-grading/

A link to the most recent article David has written: Guide to severe grading in ML exams for teachers and senior leaders


Thanks to those who could make it on the night – about 100 people!  By the high number of registrations, we know that this is a topic which is of great interest to school leaders and teachers.  The chat gives a flavour of the response.  Questions were posed at the end of the session.

00:59:34 Sabine Pichout: highly recommend to be part of ALL
00:59:40 Nathalie Blondeau: Reacted to “highly recommend to …” with ❤️
00:59:41 Kate: Hello everyone. I’m Kate from Wellington School in Somerset. Thank you for this evening, it will be really helpful. By the way, I love ALL, it’s a brilliant organisation. Really brilliant. We are a school member of ALL.
00:59:45 Ruthie: definitely worth it, we joined as a school!
00:59:51 Nathalie Blondeau: Reacted to “Hello everyone. I’m…” with ❤️
00:59:53 Gina (Georgina) M. Hall: Definitely join! Don’t miss out!
00:59:58 Gwerfyl White: ALL is one of the best organisations for MFL matters- been a member for 33 years ! Gwef
01:00:01 Nathalie Blondeau: Reacted to “definitely worth it,…” with ❤️
01:00:02 Jane Sowden: Hello everyone. I’m an individual member living in the Northeast of England.
01:00:05 Nathalie Blondeau: Reacted to “Definitely join! Don…” with ❤️
01:00:06 Wanda Marshall: Yes, do join! We run lots of interesting events in London and round the country, both in person and online!
01:00:10 Nathalie Blondeau: Reacted to “ALL is one of the be…” with ❤️
01:00:10 Elizabeth Lord: Reacted to “Hello everyone. I’m …” with ❤️
01:00:19 Nathalie Blondeau: Reacted to “Yes, do join! We run…” with ❤️
01:00:23 Elizabeth Lord: Reacted to “ALL is one of the be…” with ❤️
01:00:42 Rosemary Hicks: Me too, I’m an individual member from the North East of England
01:00:50 Sarah Hau: Reacted to “Yes, do join! We run…” with ❤️
01:00:51 Nathalie Blondeau: Reacted to “Me too, I’m an indiv…” with ❤️
01:01:01 Sarah Hau: Reacted to “highly recommend to …” with ❤️
01:01:04 Sarah Hau: Reacted to “Hello everyone. I’m…” with ❤️
01:01:08 Sarah Hau: Reacted to “definitely worth it,…” with ❤️
01:01:11 Sarah Hau: Reacted to “Definitely join! Don…” with ❤️
01:01:14 Sarah Hau: Reacted to “Hello everyone. I’m …” with ❤️
01:01:19 Sarah Hau: Reacted to “Me too, I’m an indiv…” with ❤️
01:01:24 Col D: School department membership. Excellent source of everything meaningful in MFL!
01:01:30 Sarah Hau: Reacted to “School department me…” with ❤️
01:02:47 Helen Myers: Lovely to read everyone’s messages!
01:03:36 Jane Harvey: School membership of ALL, both secondary and primary, is a terrific bargain to get the very best support in all things language related and to network with colleagues across the UK
01:03:44 Nathalie Blondeau: Reacted to “School membership of…” with ❤️
01:03:55 Jane Harvey: Reacted to “School membership of…” with ❤️
01:04:05 Sarah Hau: Reacted to “School membership of…” with ❤️
01:04:33 Ali Koubaa: Reacted to “School membership of…” with ❤️
01:13:03 Helen Myers: I think that’s a really important point – grades for each individual skill are only indicative
01:14:46 Helen Myers: “Legally, school makes decision about tiering” (writing that as it was an aside .. not on the slide)
01:15:00 Nathalie Blondeau: Reacted to “”Legally, school mak…” with 👍
01:15:29 Sabine Pichout: Reacted to “”Legally, school mak…” with 👍
01:17:31 Helen Myers: ‘Tough, harder questions needed for appropriate discriminaton’
01:18:44 Helen Myers: Back to O level
01:19:16 Helen Myers: A 50 year anniversary … !
01:19:40 h.nancey: tough, harder listening and reading questions put students off. Do we want to increase the number of students to do languages at KS4 and 5 or not?
01:20:08 Acorn Clayton: Reacted to “A 50 year anniversar…” with 😯
01:20:17 Leanne Henderson: Reacted to “A 50 year anniversar…” with 😭
01:20:36 Elizabeth Lord: and deliberate distractors are also demotivating …
01:20:46 h.nancey: Reacted to “and deliberate distr…” with 👍
01:20:47 Gwerfyl White: Could we campaign for one paper for MFL like in history and geography ?
01:20:50 Jane Sowden: So many universities are stopping languages. There is a vicious circle.
01:21:02 Acorn Clayton: Reacted to “and deliberate distr…” with 👍
01:21:05 h.nancey: Indeed.
01:21:13 Rebecca Wylie: Reacted to “So many universiti…” with 👍
01:21:29 Helen Myers: I’ll note comments for David to address later if that’s OK
01:21:58 Gwerfyl White: of course
01:22:07 h.nancey: languages are becoming subjects for the elite.
01:22:31 h.nancey: That is not British values.
01:22:40 Elizabeth Lord: A social justice issue …
01:22:46 Acorn Clayton: Reacted to “A social justice iss…” with 👍
01:22:48 Nathalie Blondeau: Reacted to “A social justice iss…” with 👍
01:23:32 Laura Garcia: Reacted to “and deliberate distr…” with 👍
01:23:34 Anna Bingham: If this severe grading is known – why has it not been addressed?
01:23:40 Helen Myers: https://all-london.org.uk/severe-grading/
01:24:06 Sarah Sheppard, RGS: What does a P8 coefficient mean?
01:24:08 Helen Myers: David’s latest guide: https://all-london.org.uk/severe-grading/guide-to-severe-grading-in-ml-exams-for-teachers-and-senior-leaders-dec-2023/
01:24:29 Elizabeth Lord: Maintains elitism, and is a solution to recruitment and retention – being cynical
01:25:21 Helen Myers: P8 = Progress 8 –
01:25:25 Helen Myers: En – doible counted
01:25:29 Helen Myers: maths double counted
01:25:34 Helen Myers: EBacc 3 bucket
01:25:37 Helen Myers: Open 3 bucket
01:26:01 Helen Myers: EBAcc 3 – Hi Ge and Sc higher than ML
01:27:20 Col D: I think it is not just the final grade difference but level and rate of progress of MFL GCSE over years 10 and 11, in comparison to other subjects that make MFL perceived as more difficult. Different subjects progress ‘faster ‘ than MFL as students see this in their mock grades etc
01:27:24 Kate: In MFL we are hit at two levels: a) by severe grading and b) our regular students learning a foreign language are competing against those bilingual/semi-bilingual students sitting the exams who are pushing up the grade boundaries. How can we help our regular MFL students to feel good in languages – we can’t win!
01:28:00 Elizabeth Lord: Reacted to “In MFL we are hit at…” with 👍
01:28:14 Gwerfyl White: agree Kate
01:28:17 Elin Jeanmaire: Reacted to “I think it is not ju…” with 👍
01:28:57 Jane Sowden: I can’t see the bottom of the columns.
01:29:06 Jane Sowden: Can now.
01:29:11 Nathalie Blondeau: Reacted to “Can now.” with 👍
01:29:23 Eleanor: to what extent do you think the MFL tiered paper contributes to more of the lower grades?
01:29:39 Enea + April: Reacted to “to what extent do yo…” with 👍
01:29:44 Eleanor: ie people entered for F who potentially could have achieved a higher grade
01:29:45 Elizabeth Lord: Reacted to “ie people entered fo…” with 👍
01:30:04 Col D: Is the tiering system affecting the geog v Spanish? As geog no tiers
01:30:57 Eleanor: Reacted to “I think it is not …” with 👍
01:31:12 Nathan: This may be sligthly out-of-scope, but do you know to what extent commercial target-setting packages take account of severe grading?
01:31:43 Col D: Geog grade 4 was 40% last summer. MFL much higher for foundation
01:32:04 Helen Myers: I am noting your questions – thanks
01:32:26 Leanne Henderson: Is that French vs History comparison David’s own analysis or is it published somewhere / on the website to reference it. Thanks
01:33:11 Nolwenn Burkey: The previous school, private sector I worked in made the language optional this year; I am now in a comprehensive and same here languages are optional.
01:34:48 Helen Myers: This is what you raised, Kate – but this study is for A level
01:36:04 Ruthie: What adjustements were made for non-native speakers?
01:36:07 Nolwenn Burkey: At the same time native speakers have not got the same type of sophisticated vocabulary as non native as I have seen with my own daughter!
01:37:27 Gulnar Abdullayeva: Will there be changes in the specification of other languages, for example, Russian?
01:40:34 Eleanor: Do you feel there will be a difference with mark clustering between the Edexcel and AQA specs?
01:41:01 Gwerfyl White: How did they ascertain whether they were native speakers to produce the data we just saw? Could we make them sign on the paper so that the cohort could be weighted accordingly when OFQUAL is setting the grade boundaries and put our non-native speakers on a level, fairer playing field?
01:41:30 Enea + April: Reacted to “How did they ascerta…” with 👍
01:41:37 Eleanor: Reacted to “How did they ascer…” with 👍
01:43:36 Anna Bingham: Would 2019 grade distribution be an accurate one?
01:43:57 Charlotte Tilley: Thank you very much for the excellent presentation
01:43:58 Gwerfyl White: Extremely useful David- thank you
01:43:58 Jane Sowden: Very interesting. Thank you.
01:44:02 Enea + April: Thank you very much
01:44:04 Acorn Clayton: Thank you
01:44:07 Col D: Super informative. Many thanks
01:44:11 Julien Violette: A fantastic session, really enlightening
01:44:11 Anna Bingham: Very interesting indeed
01:44:13 Ruthie: Thank you so much, very thorough
01:44:19 Nolwenn Burkey: Extremely useful, I would have loved to be able to work in your school!
01:44:19 Florence Barats: Thnak you so much
01:44:20 Gena Taylor: Thank you very much – very informative.
01:44:20 Rebecca Wylie: Thank you David. This has been really useful.
01:44:20 Martin Bailey-Rigby: Thank you
01:44:21 nf: Thank you this will be super useful when analysing results this summer
01:44:22 Francisca Mejias-Yedra: Thank you! Very interesting
01:44:27 Suzanne O’Farrell: Extremely useful David – thank you very much
01:44:29 Nathan: Thank you – as always very clear and helpful
01:44:32 Eleanor: Reacted to “Would 2019 grade d…” with 👍
01:44:33 Clare Murray: Thank you – very interesting and helpful
01:44:34 Stewart Dearsley: Thank you so much for such a clear and informative presentation.
01:44:37 Acorn Clayton: Good but frustrating, having listened to these presentations for years.
01:44:37 Victoria Harrison: Thank you both, and always, for your time and dedication to this cause.
01:44:39 joanne: Thank you -really helpful.
01:44:41 Ali Koubaa: Thank you so much !
01:44:42 Sabine Pichout: Thank you. Very useful
01:44:43 Kate Waters: thank you very much, very informative.
01:44:53 Leanne Henderson: That was very informative. Very many thanks for all the work you do in this area!
01:45:11 Annie Baldauf-Good: Thank you, interesting presentation also for an experienced examiner.
01:45:12 Elizabeth Lord: Thank you – fascinating, and such a lot of work ..
01:45:50 iPhone (7): Thanks a lot, very informative
01:46:13 Nolwenn Burkey: Exam questions are also very different from the textbook questions
01:46:30 Sam Dernley: Reacted to “Exam questions are a…” with 👍
01:46:37 Annie Baldauf-Good: Reacted to Exam questions are a… with “👍”
01:47:19 Elizabeth Lord: Reacted to “Exam questions are a…” with 👍
01:47:30 Julien Violette: We have been very pleased to hear from our new exam board that the listening and reading exams will no longer be sat back to back, because it will allow students to reset and refocus
01:47:33 Kate Waters: What i do not understand is that the evidence is overwhelming of harsh grading, but those who should be doing something to create a more equitable experience and equitable levels of achievement across different subjects are not doing anything.
01:47:34 joanne: Writing questions must be age appropriate
01:47:53 Eleanor: Reacted to “We have been very …” with 👍
01:47:55 Rebecca Wylie: Reacted to “We have been very …” with 👍
01:48:12 Nathalie Blondeau: Reacted to “We have been very pl…” with 👍
01:49:34 Gina (Georgina) M. Hall: Tricky, but don’t forget that exams are available to people much older than teenagers too.
01:49:35 Gwerfyl White: We used to have Foundation/Higher 1 and Higher 2- 3 levels with students starting and then leaving after each section
01:49:37 Nolwenn Burkey: Helen, having looked at the comparison you did, at times there is not much difference between the 2 boards. So I may buy the 2 textbooks to have as much material as possible. French teacher Net has already made some material available
01:49:55 Elizabeth Lord: Reacted to “We used to have Foun…” with 👍
01:49:56 Rebecca Wylie: I would agree with you Helen. So demotivating for a weaker student.
01:50:12 Elizabeth Lord: Reacted to “I would agree with y…” with 👍
01:50:44 Anna Bingham: We have target grades which are unrealistic
01:53:00 Gwerfyl White: thank you
01:53:21 Col D: Hi Colette here ColD 😊 just seems always lower in Year 10 exams regardless of skill in comparison to other GCSE subjects. Motivation waivers, some dip off and those that persevere pick up rapidly in year 11
01:53:23 Jane Sowden: Was KS2 data used to pinpoint native ML speakers? i.e. no KS2 data = poss native speakers?
01:54:05 Linda Soderberg: Thank you – especially the advice for the new GCSE.
01:56:56 Leanne Henderson: Perfect, thank you!
01:57:04 Nathan J: Thank you!
01:57:04 Julien Violette: We will definitely used your fantastic session to continue the conversation with our academy leaders so they really understand that languages cannot be compared to other subjects
01:57:11 Gwerfyl White: Very useful to learn about the different FFt %s David, Thank you
01:57:14 Jane Sowden: Thank you so much!!!
01:57:17 Florence Barats: All the best for tomorrow!
01:57:20 Gina (Georgina) M. Hall: In other subjects they only test topics covered to date. In ML mock/trial exams, past papers are used; the language is the same as it will be in 4,5,6, months time. This is especially problematic at A level: language is the language, even if you do still have months to go.
01:57:20 Anna Bingham: Thanks!
01:57:21 Wanda Marshall: Thank you!
01:57:22 Sabine Pichout: Thank you and best wishes for tomorrow
01:57:23 Jonathan Patterson: Many thanks- wonderfully informative…
01:57:26 mmerino-sharratt: Thank you much and hope Ofsted goes well for you.
01:57:29 VKawashima: Thank you so much and best of luck for Ofsted!
01:57:30 Acorn Clayton: Good luck with your inspection, sure you will wow them!
01:57:33 Enea + April: Good luck for tomorrow and thank you for giving up your time on such a stressful eve!
01:57:33 Wanda Marshall: Good luck tomorrow!
01:57:35 Jane Sowden: Daumen gedruckt!
01:57:35 Gwerfyl White: All the best for OFSTED tomorrow
01:57:36 Elizabeth Lord: Bon courage for demain et après!
01:57:37 Victoria Harrison: Good luck with Ofsted.
01:57:38 Julien Violette: All the best for your Ofsted inspection, you’ll be excellent as usual
01:57:39 Rebecca Wylie: good luck!
01:57:39 Leanne Henderson: You will be fabulous!! Good luck
01:57:42 James Stubbs: Many thanks and all the very best for tomorrow!
01:57:42 Sarah Sheppard, RGS: This was super useful; thank you! Good luck for Oftsed
01:57:43 Nathalie Blondeau: Good luck with Ofsted tomorrow!