In a government U-turn, all A-level and GCSE students in England will now be given grades estimated by their teachers, it has been confirmed.
The government will scrap the controversial standardisation model proposed by exam regulator Ofqual, which used an algorithm based on schools’ prior grades and caused uproar after almost 40% of predicted A-level results were downgraded. Some students were marked down as much as two or three grades, which saw many devastated at losing university places.
Results will now be based on teacher-assessed grades, unless their grades had been increased by the algorithm in which case they would be allowed to stand.
Ofqual chair Roger Taylor and Education Secretary Gavin Williamson apologised for the ‘distress’ caused.
In a statement, Taylor said: “We understand this has been a distressing time for students, who were awarded exam results last week for exams they never took. The pandemic has created circumstances no one could have ever imagined or wished for. We want to now take steps to remove as much stress and uncertainty for young people as possible, and to free up heads and teachers to work towards the important task of getting all schools open in two weeks.”
“After reflection, we have decided that the best way to do this is to award grades on the basis of what teachers submitted. The switch to centre assessment grades will apply to both AS- and A-levels and to the GCSE results which students will receive later this week.”
GCSE results in England, Wales and Northern Ireland come out on Thursday.
Acknowledging the ‘real anguish’, ‘uncertainty and anxiety for students’, Taylor added that “we are extremely sorry”.
Of course, the U-turn is a welcome relief and will ensure students get a much fairer deal during such a distressing and uncertain time in their education. But we can’t ignore the glaring questions and obvious frustrations that still remain. Why did it take the Department for Education so long to sort out this mess, and why were Ofqual and the DfE allowed to waste time playing the ‘blame game’ – quite literally, like a couple of bickering school children in the political playground – while young people across the country were left bereft and panicking about their futures?
At a time when the catastrophic fallout from the Coronavirus pandemic has left thousands of families in the country struggling, how was a standardisation process – which hit pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds the hardest, while benefitting private school students the most – allowed to be implemented? Specifically, analysis by Ofqual showed that those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds were most likely to have the grades proposed by their teachers overruled, while those in wealthier areas were less likely to be downgraded.
And crucially, what will happen to those A-level students who missed out on their first choice of university during this late stage in the admissions process?
Gavin Williamson has said he will lift the cap on uni places to help students who lost out on their first choice, but with many places already offered to other pupils via clearing – not to mention the challenges raised by social distancing measures and capacity restrictions – is it simply too late?
As Paul Whiteman, the general secretary of the NAHT school leaders’ union, said: “The big question remains as to why this decision has taken so long to come, as it may already be too late for some A level students who have already missed out on their first choice of university and course. Every day of delay is going to have loaded more and more difficulty onto universities and their capacity to meet all of the demand for places that will now inevitably come their way. For them, the problem is far from over.”