University chiefs criticise 'grave injustices' of A-level results

18 August 2020, 14:04

University officials speak out over A-level fiasco

By Megan White

Senior figures at some of England's biggest universities have criticised the “grave injustices” of the A-level results algorithm, and claimed Gavin Williamson “knew perfectly well” what it would do to students’ grades.

Richard Harvey, Director of Academic Admissions at the University of East Anglia, today told LBC News the Education Secretary became “transfixed by fixing grade inflation,” which was “the least of the worries.”

He also said the university sector was “dealt a rigged deck” by the process.

Vice Chancellor of Birmingham City University Professor Philip Plowden said: “There was significant unfairness in the way things were happening. It is really quite disappointing to find that a week after clearing started we are having to go back to the beginning and start again."

Read more: What does the Government U-turn on A-level and GCSE exam results mean for students?

Almost 40 per cent of results were downgraded amid last week’s A-level chaos before the Government were forced to make a U-turn and accept teachers’ grades instead.

Mr Williamson told LBC earlier on Tuesday that Ofqual "didn't deliver" on the promised system that the Government believed would be in place for assessing A-level and GCSE results.

Manchester student says exams fiasco shows government doesn’t care about working class people

But he is facing mounting pressure from Tory backbenchers, who claimed he had lost the confidence of the teaching profession and should resign.

Mr Harvey said although he had been “relatively persuaded” by the algorithm ahead of results day because of Ofqual’s good reputation, it quickly became apparent there was a problem.

He said: “As soon as the results started to come in, we were scratching our heads.

“We didn’t see the Centre Assessed Grades, but as soon as people started to call us up and tell us what they were, we could see that there was a problem.

“And then, if you turn to the 316-page detailed mathematical report by Ofqual, which was published quite a way after the algorithm had operated, you could see what the minister could see beforehand, which is that there were grave injustices being done.

“At that point, I think the university sector threw their hands in the air and realised they’d been dealt a rigged deck.”

Ofqual "didn't deliver" on the exams system, Education Secretary claims

He added: “I think the minister knew perfectly well what the algorithm was capable of.

“I bet he was given a briefing, I can see his sticky fingerprints all over that 316-page report by the things it omits.

“I think he knew, but he was in love with the idea of zero grade inflation – he has talked about grade inflation as a great problem ever since he’s been appointed, and he became transfixed by fixing grade inflation in a time when frankly grade inflation was the least of the worries.

“And now, of course, he’s presided over the most substantial grade inflation in the history of high school results in this country.”

Vanessa Potter, director of External Relations at the University of Essex, said she was “really feeling for these poor young people who have been messed about like we have never seen.”

She told LBC News there was “real inequality” within the system, and discussed how the University of Essex has tried to be “as flexible as we can be” in offering places.

Teacher's powerful question to the government over A-level grades

Ms Potter said: “I think we can all understand this is a really difficult time, there’s a real complexity, and perhaps there wasn’t a perfect answer, but I think what we have all been trying to do is focus on doing the best we can for these young people.

“We all recognise that none of this is of their making, so we’re trying to be as flexible as we can be and we’re really trying to recognise the amazing challenges they’ve been going through.

“We recognised the real inequality within the system last week, so what we’ve been saying to applicants and people who’ve wanted to look at places in Clearing, even before yesterday’s announcement, was come to us with your predicted grades if you know them, any mock results, we’re also looking at GCSE results, and we’re trying to look at the whole picture and be as flexible as we can all the way through since we realised the challenges last Thursday.

“What we’re doing now, as a result of yesterday’s announcement, which again, we’d decided we were going to do anyway, is revisiting everybody who we’ve rejected, both who applied to us in the main cycle and people who applied to us in Clearing.”

She added: “We’ve all got a responsibility to try and look after [students] and try and get the best we possibly can for them.”