A-levels: Labour call for government u-turn over 'exams fiasco'


Students collect results on Thursday

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There has been widespread concern about the fairness of the ‘calculated’ results

Labour has called on ministers to act immediately to sort out an “exams fiasco” in England and stop thousands of A-level students being “betrayed”.

It said it was unacceptable that a “flawed system” had led to 280,000 pupils having their marks downgraded.

Sir Keir Starmer said ministers must follow the lead of Scotland and allow teacher assessed marks to be accepted.

But ministers say this risks “grade inflation” and disadvantaged pupils had not been disproportionately affected.

After exams were cancelled due to the pandemic, grades were awarded on Thursday on the basis on a controversial modelling system – with the key factors being the ranking order of pupils and the previous exam results of schools and colleges.

This produced more top grades than has ever been seen before in A-levels – almost 28% getting A* and As – but head teachers have been angry about “unfathomable” individual injustices in the downgrading of some results.

In England, 36% of entries had grades lower than their teachers predicted and 3% were down two grades.

There are now calls to switch away from this system and to use teachers’ predictions, in the way that the government u-turned in Scotland.

But England’s exam watchdog Ofqual has warned that using teachers’ predictions would have artificially inflated results – and would have seen about 38% of entries getting A*s and As.

‘Injustice’

Labour said the lack of consistency in individual results was “heartbreaking” for those affected and the government was squarely to blame for sticking with a “fatally flawed results system”.

“Across the last 24 hours the scale of the injustice has become clear,” the Labour leader said.

“Young people and parents right across the country, in every town and city, feel let down and betrayed.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said pupils would be able to sit exams if they feel they could have done better.

“The unprecedented and chaotic circumstances created by the UK government’s mishandling of education during recent months mean that a return to teacher assessments is now the best option available.

“No young person should be at a detriment due to government incompetence.”

Labour is also calling for an urgent review of the standardisation model ahead of GCSE results next week.

The Equalities and Human Rights Commission has also urged the exams regulator Ofqual to consider the equality impacts of all their actions and mitigate against any potential negative affect on disadvantaged and minority groups.

EHRC Chief Executive, Rebecca Hilsenrath, called on the watchdog to publish a full breakdown of the differences between teacher assessed grades and the final grade.

“Students who have been downgraded must be able to appeal directly if they believe their grades are unfair,” she said.

Figures from Ofqual showed that the independent schools had disproportionately benefited from the rise in top grades – up by five percentage points, compared with two percentage points for comprehensives and 0.3 percentage points for further education colleges.

The chairman of the Education Select Committee, Tory MP Robert Halfon, urged Ofqual to “explain properly how their model has worked and whether it has been fair”.

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Many students were happy with their grades

Boris Johnson has defended what he said were a “robust set” of grades and said that pupils who believed they were treated unfairly would be able to appeal or, if they wanted, sit exams in the autumn.

Schools can appeal for an upgrade if their pupils’ mock grades were higher than their estimated results.

But the exam regulator Ofqual has still to say how a mock exam result can be validated – and head teachers have warned that mocks are not standardised or taken by all pupils, and could not be used as a fair way of deciding final exam results.

Speaking on BBC Breakfast, Transport Minister Grant Shapps rejected suggestions this year’s exam system had been tougher on students from poorer backgrounds.

“More students from disadvantaged backgrounds are going to university and overall we’ve got more accepted to university than previously as well,” said Mr Shapps.



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