Exams system will deliver 'credible, strong' results for pupils, says Education Secretary

12 August 2020, 18:12

Gavin Williamson said the system will deliver “credible, strong results” for young people
Gavin Williamson said the system will deliver “credible, strong results” for young people. Picture: PA

By Megan White

The Education Secretary has apologised to pupils for the disruption to their schooling during the Covid-19 pandemic, but insisted they will receive 'credible, strong results' on Thursday's result day.

Gavin Williamson said the system was "robust" and "fair" for young people set to receive GCSE and A-level results, despite them having missed their exams.

He also apologised to “every single child” in the UK for the disruption caused by the pandemic, with schools having closed their doors to the majority of students in March.

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

The Government announced late on Tuesday that students will be able to use results in valid mock exams to appeal if they are unhappy with their results.

The Scottish and Welsh Governments have also both made last-minute changes, with Scotland reversing the downgrading of more than 124,000 results and Wales allowing AS-level grades to be used.

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But with less than 24 hours to go until students receive their calculated A-level results following the cancellation of this summer's exams, schools, colleges and universities are still unclear how the new appeals process will work and what the likely timescale and uptake will be among students.

In an interview on Wednesday, Mr Williamson said: "I apologise to every single child right across the country for the disruption that they've had to suffer."

He added: "The system, for the overwhelming majority of young people, is going to deliver, you know, credible, strong results for every single one of them.

"It's a robust system, it's a fair system, it's making sure that young people get the grades that they've worked so hard towards."

Mr Williamson also defended Tuesday’s changes, saying: "I'm not going to hesitate in terms of actually making changes if I can get the system as fair as possible for every single child."

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But Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer accused the Government of causing "widespread chaos" among teachers, parents and students following the 11th-hour changes, adding the situation was "shambolic".

Sir Keir has called for individual students in England to be allowed to appeal against grades, rather than through school or college, and for the Government to mandate universities to be flexible.

"All of that needs to be put in place and it needs to be put in place before tomorrow is out," he said.

England's exams regulator Ofqual has said it is "working urgently" to set out how mock exam results will form the basis of an appeal, but further details will not be ready until next week.

Students picking up results on Thursday will want reassurance that their first-choice university will still have a space for them if they decide to appeal through their school or college.

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Professor Julia Buckingham, president of Universities UK (UUK) and vice-chancellor of Brunel University London, said: "This last-minute policy change presents a number of challenges for universities.

"We are seeking urgent clarification from the Department for Education (DfE) on a range of issues including the likely scale and timing of appeals."

Universities are concerned the appeals system may not give students enough time to secure a final grade ahead of the start of the term, and it could also cause issues with timetabling and accommodation.

The Ucas deadline for applicants to meet their academic offer conditions is September 7, which leaves exam boards less than four weeks to issue outcomes of appeals.

A statement from Ofqual said: "We believe this process is the fairest for all students in the circumstances.

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"However, we understand why the Government has wanted to provide some additional assurance for students, by confirming that evidence from valid mock exams can be considered as part of an appeal.

"We are working urgently to operationalise this as fairly as possible and to determine what standards of evidence will be required for the appeal. We will provide more detail early next week.”