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Bishops share pupils’ relief at A-level U-turn

17 August 2020

PA

Students outside the Department for Education in London react to the news on Monday

Students outside the Department for Education in London react to the news on Monday

ALL A-level and GCSE students in England will receive exam results based on the predictions of their teachers, the Government announced on Monday, after days of fierce protests against the outcomes produced by the previous system.

Bishops have welcomed the Government’s U-turn, which means that students will be awarded the highest grade either predicted by their teacher or awarded last week.

A-level results released on Thursday of last week were awarded through a system based on schools’ previous results. It was designed by the exam regulator for England, Ofqual, as an alternative to exams, which were cancelled earlier this year because of the coronavirus (News, 27 March).

The results, however, which were calculated through an algorithm and not through individual student performance, sparked widespread outcry after thousands of students were downgraded and missed out on university places.

In England, more than one third (36 per cent) of entries had a lower grade than teachers had predicted; three per cent of students’ results were lowered by two grades. Disadvantaged schools were reported to be subject to the biggest downgrades compared with private or independent schools, or schools in more affluent areas.

Under pressure to resolve the escalating crisis before GCSE results are announced on Thursday, the Government scrapped the Ofqual system. The Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, who was under fire last week, said on Monday: “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.”

The Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Revd Paul Bayes, said: “This is helpful, encouraging, and right.”

The Bishop of Ripon, Dr Helen-Ann Hartley, said: “The right decision prevails, but questions must be asked how this mess happened in the first place, causing unnecessary stress to thousands of young people, their families, and teachers.

“Ongoing questions surely need to be raised about the workings of the United Kingdom with respect to its devolved administrations: confusion and chaos are two words that neatly describe the situation; unprecedented for any Government, yes, but clear leadership sorely lacking.”

The chair of Ofqual, Roger Taylor, has apologised. “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 were awarded.”

The Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer, said: “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.”

It is unclear whether the move has come in time for universities to revise their offers. Some universities, however, including two Oxford colleges, New College and Worcester College, had already agreed to offer places to all of its UK offer-holders, regardless of grades.

Earlier on Monday, it had been announced that GCSE results in Northern Ireland would be based solely on grades provided by teachers. By the afternoon, it was confirmed that A-level and AS-level students in Northern Ireland would be revised in the way that the Government announced. As in England, more than one third of students in Northern Ireland had been awarded lower grades than those predicted by their teachers.

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