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

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Media captionOfqual Chair Roger Taylor: “It simply has not been an acceptable experience for young people”

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

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

‘Days of confusion’

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

In a tweet, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the government had been “forced into a screeching U-turn after days of confusion”.

He criticised Downing Street’s handling of students’ results as “a complete fiasco” and said its about-face was a “victory for the thousands of young people who have powerfully made their voices heard this past week”.

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

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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 Ofqual had therefore decided to “change course” and allow teacher-assessed grades to be awarded.

‘Thankful and excited’

A-level student Jess Johnson, who stood to lose out on a £16,000 scholarship, said she was “thankful” and “excited” about the change to results.

The 18-year-old needed an A in English to earn a place at St Andrews, along with a £4,000-a-year scholarship, but she was downgraded from her predicted A to a B and was initially told she had been rejected.

That downgrading is now set to be reversed.

Ms Johnson, who studied at Ashton Sixth Form College in Greater Manchester, said: “I think it would have been unfair if (Northern) Ireland, Scotland and Wales made the change and we didn’t, so I’m very glad.”

However, she questioned why it had taken so long to make the change, after A-level results came out on Thursday, saying “a lot of stress and anxiety” had been caused as a result of the wait.


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