GCSE results 'will not be delayed' Downing Street says ahead of announcement

17 August 2020, 05:25

Boris Johnson is coming under pressure from all sides amid the deepening A-Level crisis
Boris Johnson is coming under pressure from all sides amid the deepening A-Level crisis. Picture: PA
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

Downing Street has said GCSE results will not be delayed amid mounting pressure for the Government to revise exam marks due to coronavirus.

Downing Street has hit back at calls to delay this year's GCSE results amid the deepening A-levels crisis in England, which has seen growing anger among pupils and teachers and warnings of unrest among MPs.

While the unrest over A-level results is still unfolding, a similar row over GCSEs is looming as results are due to be released this week.

On Monday morning the Government did not rule out the prospect of a Scottish-style U-turn which would see grades based on teacher assessments rather than an algorithm.

Asked specifically if that was a possibility, a Number 10 spokesman said: "We will continue to work hard to come up with the fairest system possible for pupils."

Downing Street insisted there would be no delay to the announcement of GCSE results despite the confusion over A-levels.

"We will not be delaying GCSE results," a Number 10 spokesman said.

There will be an announcement on exam results from Education Secretary Gavin Williamson and Ofqual later this afternoon, according to numerous reports.

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The Telegraph newspaper earlier reported members of the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual) board now want to ditch their own algorithm, which has been controversially used to calculate results for A-levels and GCSEs this year.

Citing sources the newspaper reported a split within Ofqual’s board, seeing some members believe that the algorithm has led to a "hemorrhaging" of public trust in qualifications and that performing a U-turn, as the Scottish government has done, is the “least bad option”.

Opposition MPs have also hit out at Mr Johnson with Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer urging the PM to take "personal responsibility" for fixing the issue, accusing him of having been "invisible" throughout the turmoil.

Boris Johnson is on holiday in Scotland despite the crisis over the A-level results, Downing Street said.

Amid speculation that a U-turn could be coming over the controversial way that results were awarded, a Number 10 spokesman said Mr Johnson broke into his holiday to speak to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson on Monday morning.

"The Prime Minister spoke to the Education Secretary and senior officials this morning," the spokesman said.

"We continue to work hard to come up with the fairest system possible."

Boris Johnson faces calls to intervene to end A-levels crisis

The Conservative former education secretary Lord Baker of Dorking urged ministers to delay the publication of GCSE results, due this week, until the problems with A-levels had been resolved.

Mr Johnson had been expected to be in Scotland this week on a camping holiday with his fiancee, Carrie Symonds, and their baby son Wilfred.

But with Labour demanding he hold a press conference to explain how he intends to right the "historic injustice" suffered by pupils who had had their grades marked down, Downing Street was unable to say whether the trip would go ahead.

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The Department for Education (DfE) has said it is continuing to work with the regulator Ofqual to build as much "fairness into the appeals process as possible" to help what it described as the "most difficult cases".

"Ofqual continues to consider how to best deliver the appeals process to give schools and pupils the clarity they need," a DfE spokesman said in a statement issued late on Sunday.

However the position was not helped by the decision of the exams regulator to issue guidance over the weekend on students using the results of mock exams as the basis for an appeal, only to withdraw it hours later.

No explanation was given for the move, although Labour said that it undermined assurances given to pupils by Education Secretary Gavin Williamson about the appeals process.

Mr Williamson last week gave a "triple-lock" commitment that pupils could use the highest result out of their teacher's predicted grade, their mock exam, or sitting an actual exam in the autumn.

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But the Ofqual guidance said if the mock result was higher than the teacher's prediction, it was the teacher's prediction that would count.

In a further setback for the Education Secretary, it has been reported that some members of the Ofqual board now wanted to ditch the system for "moderating" the predicted grades awarded by teachers so results are standardised across the country.

Mr Williamson has consistently argued moderation was essential to prevent "rampant grade inflation" after actual exams were cancelled amid the coronavirus crisis, insisting there can be no U-turn.

However critics have complained the algorithm used by Ofqual to make the adjustments had penalised pupils in schools in more disadvantaged areas, while benefiting those in private schools.

The Telegraph said some Ofqual board members believed it had resulted in a "haemorrhaging" of public trust in the results, and reverting to teacher assessments - as the Scottish government had done - may be the "least bad option".

Those concerns are likely to strengthen the hands of teaching unions who are pressing for teacher assessments as the only fair way forward.

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In all, almost 40 per cent of all A-level grades in England were marked down as a result of the standardisation process, and ministers are now braced for another backlash when the GCSE results - which are moderated using the same algorithm - are released on Thursday.

The former Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable, who served in coalition with the Conservatives under David Cameron, warned the issue would cause the Government "lasting harm".

Speaking to the BBC he said one "act of ill will" in particular could rebound on ministers.

"The Royal Statistical Society offered help to try and improve this algorithm, to make it more genuine and realistic," he said.

"And the help was refused because the statisticians were not willing to sign a gagging clause promising not to reveal what they found.

"That kind of dishonesty in the background really doesn't help the smell around this whole thing."