A-level and GCSE results: Pressure mounts on ministers to solve exam crisis

Pressure is mounting on ministers to let teacher-assessed grades stand in England to avoid a second wave of exams chaos hitting GCSE results this week.

About 40% of A-Level results were downgraded after the exams regulator Ofqual used an algorithm based on schools’ previous results.

The English and Welsh governments are expected to make an announcement on the issue this afternoon.

It comes after Northern Ireland said it would use teachers’ grades for GCSEs.

Speculation is growing that a similar move will be made in England and Wales, bringing all four nations in line with each other. Scotland already said students’ teacher-assessed grades would stand after a huge outcry over unfairness.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, currently on holiday, spoke to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson and his senior officials earlier on Monday to discuss the growing outcry over results.

The Department for Education and Ofqual are now expected to address the issue for England in a statement this afternoon, but it is understood they will hold off from delaying GCSE exam results.

‘Results won’t be delayed’

Some 700,000 pupils in England, Wales and Northern Ireland will receive results for GCSEs they never sat this week.

And there is concern that the anomalies and unexpected results tied to Ofqual’s algorithm will hit GCSE candidates harder.

Last week in England, 280,000 A-level results were downgraded from teachers’ assessments, almost 40% of the total. In Wales, it was 42% of A-level papers.

Asked repeatedly about a possible U-turn on the results system, the Prime Minister’s spokesman would only say the government continued to work to come up with the fairest possible system.

“We recognise that many people are concerned and anxious about the exam grading system.”

“We will not be delaying GCSE results,” he said, adding the PM had confidence in Mr Williamson and the head of Ofqual, Sally Collier.

Mary Curnock-Cook, former head of the university admissions service Ucas, said a switch back to teacher-assessed grades at A-level, could mean the some 55,000 students who had missed out on university places could be in a position to go back and ask for their place to be reinstated.

The government has been facing a growing backlash from Conservative backbenchers, with at least 17 MPs criticising the system.

The list includes former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith and Paymaster General Penny Mordaunt who said she would be seeking meetings with the Department for Education on this issue.

Ms Mordaunt said: “This group of young people have lost out so much already, we must ensure that bright, capable students can progress on their next step.”

Head teachers called last week’s A-level results “unfair and unfathomable”, with many gifted pupils losing top university places and pupils in sixth forms and further education colleges particularly badly hit by the algorithm.


Kate Green, Labour’s shadow education secretary, said the government had had weeks to resolve the matter.

“Here we are just two or three days away from GCSE results and the government still hasn’t got a grip on the problem.”

Labour has called for teacher-assessed grades to be used for A-levels in England, adding the should remain open for GCSEs.

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‘It’s not justice. It’s immoral’

On Twitter, BBC Newsnight’s Lewis Goodall said he had received scores of messages from downgraded students.

One of these, David from Gateshead, was meant to be the first of his family to go to university with an offer from Cambridge to read engineering.

His teachers predicted A*AA but the algorithm allocated him A*AB because his FE college had never had such good grades in maths before – and now his place is on hold.

With his “dream for years” shattered David said: “It doesn’t feel real.

“The college thought it would be the best year we’ve ever had – but the algorithm says it’s not allowed.”

Private school pupil Abby from Bosworth also got in touch.

She had offers from Lancaster and York to do geography. She needed ABB but got ABU.

The U grade in maths, for which she was expecting a B or a C, means her chances of a university place are very limited.

“It’s not been great to be honest.

“I cried the whole day yesterday and the day before.

“It’s not justice. It’s immoral.”

Former Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw said it was “inevitable” that the government would have to accept the grades estimated by teachers.

“The great danger for Gavin Williamson now is he’s losing the confidence of head teachers around the country,” he said, adding that “he is losing the dressing room”.

The Grammar School Heads Association and the private schools’ body, the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC), also back a switch to teacher-assessed grades, as do the teaching unions and many prominent education academics.

Many students are expected to appeal, although there has been confusion over the appeals process after Ofqual withdrew its guidance for challenging results hours after publishing it on Saturday.

New guidelines was still being drawn up by Ofqual, the Department for Education said on Sunday evening.

‘Confidence is in short supply’

Parents will now be wondering why teacher assessed grades are good enough for 16-year-olds in Northern Ireland and Scotland but not in England?

Pressure has piled on the government to find a solution, with both grammar schools and sixth form colleges saying their pupils have lost out, further undermining confidence in this year’s grades in England.

If anyone should have done well based on previous years’ results it’s grammar schools that select on academic ability. Yet they say the A-level results were a “great injustice”.

Grammar schools have a totemic place in the Conservative Party so this will worry many backbenchers.

One of the fundamental roles of an exam regulator such as Ofqual is to maintain confidence in the system.

Yet confidence is in short supply – with Sixth Form Colleges Association analysis showing students getting lower A-level grades than similar 18-year-olds in previous years.

A Department for Education spokesman said hundreds of thousands of students had received a calculated grade to “enable them to progress” and that the department aimed “to build as much fairness into the appeals system as possible”.

On Sunday hundreds of students held protests against grades they believe were unfairly awarded.

Meanwhile, analysis by the Sixth Form Colleges Association (SFCA) looked at 65,000 exam entries in 41 subjects in its member colleges and found that grades were 20% lower than historic performances for similar students in those colleges.

The SFCA said it had not found a single one where the results were above the three-year average.

Ofqual says that its objective for A-level results this year has been to ensure “national results are broadly similar to previous years”.

The research showed that Ofqual “not only failed to produce broadly similar results, but has in fact produced worse results in every single subject”, the SFCA said.

Dr Mark Fenton, chief executive of the Grammar School Heads Association, said the results had also been unfair to some of its students.

He told the BBC that “a great injustice has been done” with “utterly baffling” results for some students with the “only fair outcome” being to accept grades predicted by teachers.

Three of Oxford University’s colleges – Worcester, Wadham and St Edmund Hall – have confirmed that all places offered to UK students will be secured irrespective of their A-level results.

Ahead of GCSE results due to be released on Thursday, former Conservative Education Secretary Lord Kenneth Baker urged the government to delay the publication of grades until the situation surrounding A-levels had been resolved.

“If you are in a hole, stop digging,” Lord Baker said.

Have your A level results been affected by this year’s grading system?

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