News | Published August 18 2020

England makes exams u-turn

All A-Level and GCSE results in England will now be based on teachers’ predicted grades following criticism of the controversial standardisation algorithm.

The move brings England in line with the other UK nations, after the Welsh government announced it would also change tack on Monday, following u-turns in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The standardisation system, tasked with awarding grades after the Covid-19 pandemic saw exams cancelled, has seen 280,000 A-Level results in England downgraded from teachers’ predicted grades, equating to almost 40 per cent of total entries.

GCSE results day in England is due later this week.

Announcing the decision to scrap the model in England on Monday afternoon and switch to teacher assessed grades, education secretary Gavin Williamson said: “This has been an extraordinarily difficult year for young people who were unable to take their exams. We worked with Ofqual to construct the fairest possible model, but it is clear that the process of allocating grades has resulted in more significant inconsistencies than can be resolved through an appeals process.

“We now believe it is better to offer young people and parents certainty by moving to teacher assessed grades for both A and AS-Level and GCSE results.

“I am sorry for the distress this has caused young people and their parents but hope this announcement will now provide the certainty and reassurance they deserve.”

Williamson had resisted calls to make a u-turn on the standardisation system prior to Monday, but made the decision following a meeting with prime minister Boris Johnson on Monday morning.

Williamson still retains the support of the PM despite calls from backbench MPs for his resignation according to the Telegraph.

Ofqual chairman Roger Taylor issued an apology to students who had been affected by the downgrading of results and the subsequent row.

Taylor said in a statement: "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."

He added: “For all that, we are extremely sorry.

"The path forward we now plan to implement will provide urgent clarity. We are already working with the Department for Education, universities and everyone else affected by this issue."

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer hailed the move as “a victory for the thousands of young people who have powerfully made their voices heard.”

Sir Keir tweeted after the announcement: “The government has had months to sort out exams and has now been forced into a screeching u-turn after days of confusion.

“This is a victory for the thousands of young people who have powerfully made their voices heard this past week.”

Meanwhile, former UCAS chief executive, Mary Curnock Cook, said that the government must follow up its move by lifting the cap on university admissions and supporting students who may have to defer their places at university as a result of the grading controversy.

Explaining that many universities may have filled up course spaces based on the initial published grades from last week, Curnock Cook told the BBC: “Decisions have already been made by universities about who they accept, who they don’t accept, who goes into clearing and so on. This change will mean that universities have to rethink completely.”

The Guardian reports that around 55,000 students were accepted into their second-choice university or entered into the clearing system based on last week's algorithm grades, with the u-turn meaning many may now be eligible for their first choice of institution. With a further 80,000 students thought to be withholding offers, around 150,000 students in total could change university following the u-turn, meaning further disruptions to the university admissions process is likely.

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Authored by

Alexander Bridge-Wilkinson
Junior Editor
August 18 2020

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