A-level and GCSE results to be based on teachers’ predictions after u-turn

17 August 2020, 16:03

Students protest in Parliament square against the exam rating system
Students protest in Parliament square against the exam rating system. Picture: PA

By Asher McShane

No10 and the exam regulator Ofqual today performed a major U-turn that will affect the results of thousands of students in England.

After days of mounting pressure and with students up and down the country left in dismay after having their results downgraded by a computer algorithm, No10 changed its policy on exam results.

In a statement from Ofqual it was announced today that all A level and GCSE pupils in England will be getting teacher assessed grades instead of the results that were given to them by the algorithm.

Teachers' assessments will be used unless the grades produced by the controversial algorithm are higher, regulator Ofqual announced.

Boris Johnson and Education Secretary Gavin Williamson had previously defended the "robust" system, which saw almost 40% of grades reduced from teachers' predictions.

But Mr Williamson apologised for the distress caused by the handling of the process, which followed the cancellation of exams due to coronavirus.

He said sorry to students and parents affected by "significant inconsistencies" with the grading process.

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Mr Williamson said in a statement: "This has been an extraordinarily difficult year for young people who were unable to take their exams.

"We worked with Ofqual to construct the fairest possible model, but it is clear that the process of allocating grades has resulted in more significant inconsistencies than can be resolved through an appeals process."

He added: "We now believe it is better to offer young people and parents certainty by moving to teacher assessed grades for both A and AS level and GCSE results.

"I am sorry for the distress this has caused young people and their parents but hope this announcement will now provide the certainty and reassurance they deserve."

Ofqual Chairman Roger Taylor said in a statement: "We understand this has been a distressing time for students, who were awarded exam results last week for exams they never took.

"The pandemic has created circumstances no one could have ever imagined or wished for. We want to now take steps to remove as much stress and uncertainty for young people as possible - and to free up heads and teachers to work towards the important task of getting all schools open in two weeks.

"After reflection, we have decided that the best way to do this is to award grades on the basis of what teachers submitted.

"The switch to centre assessment grades will apply to both AS and A-levels and to the GCSE results which students will receive later this week."

READ MORE: Exam results u-turn - all the developments and reaction live

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said: “The Government has had months to sort out exams and has now been forced into a screeching U-turn after days of confusion. 

“This is a victory for the thousands of young people who have powerfully made their voices heard this past week.

“However, the Tories’ handling of this situation has been a complete fiasco.

“Incompetence has become this Government’s watchword, whether that is on schools, testing or care homes. 

“Boris Johnson’s failure to lead is holding Britain back.”

Students launched protests after hundreds of thousands had their results downgraded and there were further protests planned in Leeds and Newcastle tomorrow.

Students hold placards calling for a u-turn over their A-level results
Students hold placards calling for a u-turn over their A-level results. Picture: PA

Downing Street had previously refused to rule out a shift to a Scottish-style system based on teachers' predicted grades rather than an algorithm aimed at standardising results.

Boris Johnson is on holiday to Scotland this week despite the chaos over the A-level results but held talks with Mr Williamson and senior officials on Monday morning.

A Number 10 spokesman said earlier: "the Government continues to work hard to come up with the fairest system possible".

Many senior ministers went public with their criticism of the system today. The system had been put in place by regulator Ofqual after A-level exams were cancelled due to coronavirus.

Paymaster General Penny Mordaunt said she was seeking a meeting with colleagues at the Department for Education (DfE) about the issue and had made clear that if students wanted to sit the exams in the autumn there should be no fee.

"This group of young people have lost out on so much already; we must ensure that bright, capable students can progress on their next step," she said.

The minister added that she had also "made my views on GCSE results known to DfE".

Defence Minister Johnny Mercer said he was "acutely aware of the issues around A-level results and am equally concerned for the GCSE results on Thursday".

In a hint that a U-turn was coming he said: "I do not believe this is the end of the story - there are too many clear injustices.

"At this time we must not panic, and await developments. I am limited in what I can say publicly - I have had many private conversations."

England's Children's Commissioner Anne Longfield said the algorithm used by Ofqual was "irredeemably flawed".

She called for the centre assessment grades provided by teachers to be used for GCSEs but acknowledged it would be "difficult to put that genie back in the bottle" for A-level results which have already been announced.

In a stinging criticism of the Government's handling of the episode, she said: "It is notable that other countries in Europe have managed to find better, more creative and fairer ways than the UK of replacing or managing final school examinations during Covid-19.

"In due course, I hope the Government and Ofqual will consider the injustices that occur when the efforts, talents and dreams of children are considered to be reducible to the output from a statistical model."

Shadow education secretary Kate Green said teachers' predicted grades should be used for both GCSEs and A-levels.

"The injustice and chaos surrounding A-level and GCSE results must come to an end," she said.