Boris Johnson defends A-level grading system as "robust and dependable"

13 August 2020, 16:12

Boris Johnson defended the A-level marking system as "robust and dependable"
Boris Johnson defended the A-level marking system as "robust and dependable". Picture: PA

By Asher McShane

Boris Johnson has defended the marking process for this year's A-level results, saying that the system is "robust and dependable."

On a visit to Northern Ireland the Prime Minister said that this year's exam process was "obviously going to be very difficult" but that he was confident that the system was "dependable" for employers to look at to assess young people looking to get jobs.

Asked if he has confidence in Education Secretary Gavin Williamson, he said: "Of course I do, but I think this is a robust system and it's one that is dependable for employers.

"It's very important that for years to come people should be able to look at these grades and think these are robust, these are dependable."

He said: "I think obviously it was going to be very difficult in the absence of formal proper exams this year of the kind that we normally have because of the virus, we've had to put in the system we have.

"I do think it's robust and as I say, a couple of things I think are very important - first of all, more students than ever before are able to go to their university of choice, to do the course of their choice.

"And on your point about kids, pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, more than ever before are now able to go to university, are going to university this year as a result of the grades they've got today."

However his remarks came after the process was roundly criticised by people including Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer who said that the results were an example of a "deep injustice".

Sir Keir said the algorithm to determine student's grades this year has failed and has led to students unfairly losing out on opportunities.

Speaking at Queen Elizabeth Sixth Form College in Darlington, he said: "It's the system that has downgraded and has robbed them of a chance to do something - go on to university, go on to college, go on to the job they wanted to do.

The process was also roundly criticised by students, many of whom complained they had received grades far lower than what they had been expecting.

One student, Aaron from Croydon, was predicted an A* and two As for his A-levels, but when the results came today, he ended up with BCC - a drop of six grades.

Speaking to James O'Brien, he said: "This is a catastrophic failure from this government in allowing young people to have a future.

"There is no logic, there is no understanding, there is no thought-process given.

"And the back-pedalling from the Department of Education yesterday with this stupid triple-lock which they thought was going to save the day.

"It's done nothing. They only did it as a reactionary measure because of what Scotland and Wales were doing.

"I call - and I think I speak to everyone - for Mr Gavin Williamson to resign, he is an absolute abomination of an Education Secretary. He is a disgrace."

When asked what happened to his friends, he said: "I've got friends that were predicted As and A*s who ended up getting Ds.

"There are so many people who have suffered and not everyone is in the financial decision to repeat year 13. Some people's only way forward is going to university."

A-level student Harry was predicted two As and a C, but was "shocked" when he opened his grades to see he had been awarded two Cs and a D, possibly dashing his hopes to read Law with Business at Oxford Brookes.

Speaking to Nick Ferrari, he said: "To be honestly I'm quite shocked.

"We had an email from the headmaster this morning saying this morning's results for those of you who did well congratulations, but basically trying to fluff over what is basically a really big mistake on behalf the government.

"And I think the government needs to take into consideration what happened with Scotland last week and leave that as an open option.

"Because having listened to your programme this morning, as well as other radio programmes, there's not a lot of talk about research.

"But we're forgetting that people never sat these exams in the first place.

When asked if he will resit in October, he said: "I just don't know how I'd make up for the time lost with virtual classes, you'd never be able to get back to the level you were when you were going to take the exams the first time."

The A-level results of nearly two in five students in England were downgraded under the new system brought in after exams were cancelled for the first time ever due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Despite record-high results, exam boards downgraded nearly two in five (39.1%) pupils' grades in England, according to data from Ofqual - which amounts to around 280,000 entries being adjusted down after moderation.

The proportion of A-level entries awarded an A grade or higher has risen to an all-time high, with 27.9% securing the top grades this year, figures for England, Wales and Northern Ireland show.Teachers were told to submit the grades they thought each student would have received if they had sat the papers, alongside a rank order of students, after exams were cancelled amid the pandemic.