A-Level students share their concerns after last minute change to exam grading

12 August 2020, 14:47 | Updated: 5 January 2023, 12:44

Students Aniela James and Jamie Harkin spoke to LBC News about their concerns over their exams
Students Aniela James and Jamie Harkin spoke to LBC News about their concerns over their exams. Picture: LBC News

By Joe Cook

While coronavirus has upended many dates in the 2020 calendar, nervous sixth form students are set to receive their A-level results today, despite not actually sitting the exams.

Students across the country spoke to LBC News about their results day hopes and fears after exams taken across England, Wales and Northern Ireland were cancelled due to coronavirus.

In England and Northern Ireland, this year’s grades are based on either mock exam results or predictions from teachers, which were moderated based on previous results of their schools and colleges.

If students are unhappy with either, they will be allowed to retake their exams in the autumn.

READ MORE: A-level students in England can use mock exam grades to get into university

The sudden change to the grading process led to fears that students might miss the grades needed for university places.

Jamie Harkin, from Drumragh College in Northern Ireland, is receiving his results today and needs ‘AAB’ to study Social Sciences at King’s College London.

He told LBC that while he “totally trusts” his teacher’s judgement on predicting grades, the moderation process “really terrifies” him and has led to sleepless nights.

“The thing that really really concerns me is the standardisation process, because my school is not the top of the tree. The students coming through this year are the best in years in terms of grades and results,” James added, explaining he was worried this would lead to his grades being moderated down.

Louisa Reid, author and secondary school English teacher in Cheshire, also raised concerns about the moderation process, telling LBC: “The school in which I work values amongst other things, justice, truth and excellence and it is in that spirit that we decided on teacher grades for our A level and GCSE students.

“That our careful judgements have been side-lined in favour of algorithms... is a real blow.”

On Tuesday the Scottish government U-turned on their decision to downgrade around a quarter of all results following criticism from pupils, parents and teachers.

Mock exam ‘safety net’

England, Northern Ireland and Wales will go ahead with the moderated grades system, but recognising concern over the issue, Downing Street announced on Tuesday evening they would be introducing a mock exam “safety net” in England.

The government has said students who are unhappy with their grades can appeal and be given the same grades as their mock tests, which were held prior to the pandemic.

Wales also said students would not receive grades lower than their AS-levels.

However, A-level students speaking to LBC stressed that these scores may not be an accurate portrayal of their work.

Zoe Walsh, who attends Bolton Sixth Form College, also said she was worried that the new mock safety net would make results day less, rather than more, fair for students.

Zoe explained: “You can say to me: ‘You can get what you got in your mocks’, but across colleges, and even departments, people do mocks differently so it is not fair.”

After Tuesday evening's late announcement William Godfrey from Cherwell School in Oxford said he felt it was "very disconcerting to have the system changing so suddenly".

"It makes you feel like they don't know what they're doing and don't have faith in the existing system," said William, who holds an offer at Oxford to study Medicine.

On the other hand, Aniela James, who needs BBB to study Zoology at Newcastle, says she may use the safety net if her results are unexpected.

“I’m not really nervous because I feel like there’s a low chance that I’ll get any lower than that, because I’ve never shown any indication I would’ve got lower than those grades,” Aniela explained.

“However, I do feel like in Psychology especially I might’ve done a lot better if I sat the exam, as I have got an A* several times, including in one of my mocks. So for me, if I could appeal and use my mock grades that’d be a really good thing. But as long as I get the grades to get into university I don’t think I’ll bother going through that whole process.”

Online results day?

Aside from the results themselves, tomorrow’s A-levels results day will also be very different from previous years for many.

Students will find out at 8am on the UCAS website whether they have met their university offers, but some schools are still inviting students to return to their school or college to pick up their results in person.

For Shejuti Masud it will be her first time returning to Townley Grammar School in London since March. She said her school is staggering the pickup of results from 8am to 9am and will also split students between the canteen and school hall, after which she intends to go to Nando’s if she meets her offer.

However, Zoe Walsh explained that Bolton Sixth Form College is delivering all their students’ results online at 8am, over concerns that staggering the results could put some later students at a disadvantage if they need to contact universities about places.

“We have a subject group chat and we are kind of doing results day together. But it just shows how COVID-19 has made us all go online with our relationships, because we are not doing this in person,” Zoe told LBC.

Ruth Higham, from Clitheore Royal Grammar School, struck a less upbeat tone: “The hardest thing is letting go of any notion I’d held onto of ‘results day’.

“Tomorrow will not be comparable to anything previous and won’t be the momentous occasion we’d been building up to for basically the whole of our time in education but ultimately it’s just another casualty of the times we’re living through.”