People Power: A-levels and GCSEs U-turn as teacher estimates to be used for exam results

People Power: A-levels and GCSEs U-turn as teacher estimates to be used for exam results

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson: “I am sorry for the distress this has caused”

A-level and GCSE students in England will be given grades estimated by their teachers, rather than by an algorithm, after a government U-turn.

It follows uproar after about 40% of A-level results were downgraded by exams regulator Ofqual, which used a formula based on schools’ prior grades.

GCSE results in England, Wales and Northern Ireland come out on Thursday.

Ofqual chair Roger Taylor and Education Secretary Gavin Williamson apologised for the “distress” caused.

Mr Williamson said students and parents had been affected by “significant inconsistencies” with the grading process.

In a statement, he acknowledged the “extraordinarily difficult” year for students, after exams were cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

He said No 10 had worked with Ofqual to design “the fairest possible model” but it had become clear that the process of awarding grades had resulted in “more significant inconsistencies than can be resolved through an appeals process”.

“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,” said Mr Williamson

downing st student reuters
Students protest outside Downing Street Image/Reuters

The decision by the UK government brings England in line with the other UK nations.

Ofqual has said the move to teacher-assessed grades would apply to GCSEs and A Levels in England – but not BTecs, the specialist work-related qualifications that include more practical learning than A Levels.

Some educationalists are saying that those studying BTecs – many of whom still haven’t received their grades, despite being due to get them last week – had been disadvantaged by the UK government’s announcement.

One of the groups that had been planning to take the UK government to court over exam grades has said it is dropping its legal action, following the U-turn. Jo Maugham QC, the director of the Good Law Project, tweeted:

People power forced the U-turn

Teachers’ estimates will be awarded to students unless the computer algorithm gave a higher grade.

A-level students held protests across the UK in response to grades they said were unfairly awarded.

Ofqual chair Mr Taylor apologised for the “difficulty” caused to students over its grading system.

He told the BBC: “I would like to say sorry. We have recognised the difficulty that young people have faced coping with the receipt of grades that they were unable to understand the basis on which they had been awarded.

He added the regulator realised it had taken “the wrong road” and decided to “change course” after seeing the “anxiety” it had caused to young people and the added “administrative burden on teachers at a time when they need to be preparing for the new school term”.

He said while its approach may have had some “technical merits”, it had become clear that it had “not been an acceptable experience for young people and we have therefore decided that we should change course and allow the centre-assessed grades to be awarded”.

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