Students march on Downing Street to protest 'complete injustice' of A-level results

14 August 2020, 14:02

A-level students have marched on Downing Street
A-level students have marched on Downing Street. Picture: PA

By Maddie Goodfellow

A-level students have marched through central London to protest against the "complete injustice" of exam results after more than 200,000 results were downgraded.

Around 100 demonstrators had gathered outside Downing Street, chanting "sack Gavin Williamson" and "teachers not Tories" whilst holding placards.

The protesters, including students who received their A-levels on Thursday, marched down Whitehall in central London towards the Department for Education building.

It comes after A-level results day descended in chaos as almost two in five of teachers' estimates for pupils in England were adjusted down by one grade or more, according to data from Ofqual.

The downgrades - amounting to some 280,000 entries - were enacted as the nation's education officials grappled with the vexing issue of how to determine results in a year in which exams were cancelled due to coronavirus.

The Government is coming under increasing pressure to review its moderation and appeals system, with pupils complaining they have been let down, and experts warning poorer students will be affected most due to reassessments which consider schools' past performances.

A-level students are protesting about their grades

One student named Harry Mayes, from Stoke Newington in north London, missed out on a place at both his firm and insurance university places after receiving A, B and C in his A-levels.

The 18-year-old, who had been hoping to study neuroscience at the University of Bristol and had grades of A*, A and B submitted by his teachers, called the system a "complete injustice".

"I'm a free school meals student and it seems like people like me have been lowered the most," he said.

Another student, Glen from Wandsworth, told LBC News: "We are only in this situation because the government are not handling it right.

"It felt like you had been betrayed, the entire day you just had to sit there, just having no idea what to do with yourself.

"I want, I want them to realise that just because they've put it in an algorithm that this is not going to go away.

"I want the government to remember they're affecting real people's lives.

"I know there are people who have really struggled and people who haven't got into university because of an algorithm.

I want you to remember that they're dealing with people, they're not dealing with numbers.

I want them to reach out to these people and to look him in the face and tell people 'You don't deserve your place because of our algorithm'.

The government has come under increasing criticism since results day yesterday.

David Hughes, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, who has written to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson, is concerned the process may have disadvantaged larger centres - such as colleges.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, called on the Government and Ofqual to review the moderation process in England "as a matter of urgency".

A threat of legal action has been made by Curtiss Parfitt-Ford, an A-level student at a comprehensive school in west London, according to The Guardian.

Supported by Foxglove, a non-profit organisation that campaigns against the misuse of digital technology, the student has demanded Ofqual corrects defects in the algorithm used to reassess grades, or be taken to court, the paper said.

Education unions - including the National Union of Students - have called on the Government to follow Scotland's lead and scrap moderated exam grades and use teachers' original predicted grades instead.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has called for all fees for A-level appeals to be waived in response to thousands of pupils having their results downgraded.

The Welsh Government has already announced there will be no fees for appeals there, but the Department for Education said appeal fees were a matter for individual exam boards in England, adding there was no charge if an appeal is upheld.

Sir Keir also urged the Government to consider the sort of grading U-turn made by the Scottish Government this week.

He said: "The unprecedented and chaotic circumstances created by the UK Government's mishandling of education during recent months mean that a return to teacher assessments is now the best option available.

"No young person should be at a detriment due to Government incompetence.

"Time is running out. We need action in days, not weeks."

But Ofqual said it had been forced into the downgrades by inaccurate predictions by many teachers, although the vast majority had submitted accurate estimates.

"Because there was no opportunity to develop a common approach to grading, the standard applied by different schools and colleges varies greatly," an Ofqual spokesman told The Daily Telegraph.

"A rare few centres put in implausibly high judgments, including one which submitted all A* and A grades for students in two subjects, where previously there had been normal distribution."