Students say they can 'breathe again' after government U-turn on A-level results

17 August 2020, 18:35

By Kate Buck

Students whose futures hung in the balance after their A-level results were downgraded have said they can "breathe again" after a government U-turn.

Hundreds of thousands of students were left gutted after their grades were downgraded by an algorithm used by exam regulator Ofqual after exams were cancelled due to Covid-19.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Mr 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.

After hearing of the U-turn, student Alaa Muhammad, who faced missing out on her dream of studying medicine after being downgraded, said: "My heart is beating so fast.

"I am ecstatic, I am so so happy. I was so hopeless a couple of days ago and now I feel like I can finally breathe again."

Ms Muhammad, from south-east England, had seen her grades fall from a predicted AAB to EED due to the heavily-criticised algorithm.

She said she had paid more than £2,000 to take resits at a private college after her studies in year 12 and 13 were disrupted. She now hopes she will be able to study at a top university in Pakistan.

Ms Muhammad said: "Thank goodness they had some sense knocked into them. It means that I can go to one of the top universities of where I'm moving to this year to study medicine."

Students celebrate outside the Department for Education after  the announcement
Students celebrate outside the Department for Education after the announcement. Picture: PA

She added: "They should have thought every situation through, it was extremely unprofessional of them to follow suit to other countries instead of creating a system that would have been realistically fair.

Student Thomas Jukes, who missed out on a place to study medicine at the University of Birmingham due to his A-level results being downgraded, questioned why the "rubbish algorithm" was used in the first place.

"I'm much more pleased now I have got my centre-assessed grades. It's just dependent now on whether my places have been held," he said.

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

Read more: Teachers' predictions to be used in Wales for A-level and GCSE results

"If they managed to turn around in four days and say, 'well, you can just have your centre-assessed grades', it wouldn't have been that much hassle in the first place, would it?

"I think they put a lot of time and effort into this rubbish algorithm, which has been a monumental failure, to just literally give us what the teachers predicted us anyway."

Some students are now calling for the resignation of Education Secretary Gavin Williamson
Some students are now calling for the resignation of Education Secretary Gavin Williamson. Picture: PA

The 18-year-old, from Great Barr in Birmingham, said that he contacted the university as soon as he found out the news in the hope that his place had been held.

"I just gave them a call and they said they can't update us at this time, more information will be on the website soon, that kind of thing," he added.
Stanley Lewis, also 18, of Edgware, north-west London, said that removing the system of downgrading was "the only option" as it has "hurt so many people and the damage has been done".

He added: "The issue wasn't downgrading. The issue was that the algorithm was flawed, the appeals process was poorly constructed and done in a limited time.

"Every single part of the handling of the situation was wrong.

"The ideal scenario would have been if all of this was better thought out, which was their job, because so many people have been hurt by this."

Thousands protested after the algorithm downgraded their hard work
Thousands protested after the algorithm downgraded their hard work. Picture: PA

He was teacher assessed with an A* and two As for his A levels in philosophy, politics and history which he needed to go to Cambridge University.

Mr Lewis, who was downgraded to three As, said: "This has been handled terribly and with poor preparation. It is clear that Gavin Williamson should resign.

"I wanted to take a year off and apply to Cambridge but I do not know if I can do that now and if they will accept it.

Glen Morgan-Shaw, 18, of Mitcham, south-west London, who took part in a student demonstration outside the Department for Education in central London, said: "I am not here for myself. I am here for all the people whose lives have been ruined.

"I am here for all the GCSE students who we just about have saved from having to go through what we went through and I am here for all the people that lost out on places for medicine. I know of so many medicine students who have lost their places.

"Boris (Johnson) has been saying he wants to create loads of new nurses but how are you going to do that without medical students?"

He described the grading U-turn as "a first step" but said that Education Secretary Gavin Williamson "needs to resign".

"I think he needs to make a large-scale apology and he needs to be on live television and tell all the students of the country that he wants to put down, who are of a lower class than him, that he is sorry and he is going to resign."

Mr Morgan-Shaw said he was "one of the lucky ones" because, despite being downgraded, he managed to get on to his first-choice course with the help of a teacher.