British government conducts humiliating U-turn on A-level results

Grades for thousands of students in England will now be based on teachers’ assessments

Tens of thousands of A-level students in England are set to see their grades increased after a humiliating U-turn by the British government.

Following criticism from students and headteachers and a backlash by Tory MPs, this year's final grades for A-level students in England will now be based on teachers' assessments rather than the controversial algorithm devised by regulator Ofqual to moderate those grades.

British prime minister Boris Johnson and education secretary Gavin Williamson had previously defended the "robust" algorithm-based system, which saw almost 40 per cent of grades reduced from teachers' predictions.

Mr Williamson apologised for the distress caused by the handling of the process, which was employed followed the cancellation of exams due to coronavirus.

Mr Johnson, who is on holiday in Scotland, held crisis talks with Mr Williamson and senior officials on Monday morning.

The change will also apply to GCSE results in England, which are due to be released on Thursday.

Students who were awarded a higher grade by the moderation process will be allowed to keep it, but for many pupils, the move to base results on their teachers’ predictions could see their grades increased.

Mr 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.”

Labour response

Responding to the news, Labour leader 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.”

Ofqual chairman Roger Taylor apologised for the “uncertainty and anxiety” caused by the fiasco.

“Our goal has always been to protect the trust that the public rightly has in educational qualifications,” he said.

“But we recognise that while the approach we adopted attempted to achieve these goals, we also appreciate that it has also caused real anguish and damaged public confidence.

“Expecting schools to submit appeals where grades were incorrect placed a burden on teachers when they need to be preparing for the new term and has created uncertainty and anxiety for students. For all of that, we are extremely sorry.”

Earlier it had emerged that GCSE students in Northern Ireland would receive exam grades based solely on their teachers’ predictions following a major policy shift by the North’s Minister for Education.

A process of standardisation based on schools’ previous GCSE results will not now be taken into account when calculating grades following concerns that some students would be unfairly disadvantaged.

The Minister, Peter Weir, said he had taken the decision following advice from the North’s exam board, the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA), and had “listened to the concerns of school leaders, teachers, parents and young people”.

While standardisation was “normally a key feature of awarding qualifications”, he said he was “conscious that for GCSEs, unlike at A level, we do not have system level prior performance data for this group of young people”, and this would not be available to influence any appeals process.

“I have, therefore, acted now in advance of the publication of GCSE results to ease anxieties, reassure young people and their families and ensure that every individual candidate receives a grade that recognises the work they have done,” he said. – PA