U-turn sees government ditch Ofqual’s A-level algorithm

Students will now be graded based off their teacher predicted grades

All teacher-assessed A-level results will be reinstated, Ofqual has announced, after the exam regulator decided to ditch its moderation algorithm.

Ofqual chairman Roger Taylor said in a statement: “We understand this has been a distressing time for students, who were awarded exam results last week for exams they never took. The pandemic has created circumstances no one could have ever imagined or wished for. We want to now take steps to remove as much stress and uncertainty for young people as possible – and to free up heads and teachers to work towards the important task of getting all schools open in two weeks.

“The pandemic has created circumstances no one could ever have imagined or wished for” – Roger Taylor

In his statement, the Ofqual chief added: “There was no easy solution to the problem of awarding exam results when no exams have taken place. Ofqual was asked by the secretary of state to develop a system for awarding calculated grades, which maintained standards and ensured that grades were awarded broadly in line with previous years. Our goal has always been to protect the trust that the public rightly has in educational qualifications.”

Students will now keep the grade their school or college estimated they would most likely have achieved in their exam – or the moderated grade, whichever is higher.

Ofqual said it was “already working with the Department for Education, universities and everyone else affected by this issue”.

David Laws, executive chairman of the Education Policy Institute (EPI), commented: “The government should immediately establish an independent review of how this year’s results were handled, so that we can learn the lessons for the future and not repeat the many errors that have occurred this year. It should also consider the options for exams in 2021, given next year’s candidates will have already been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and there remains a chance of further lockdowns.”

Earlier today, the Welsh government announced that A-level and GCSE grades would be awarded to students in Wales on the basis of teacher assessments.

Welsh education minister, Kirsty Williams, added: “For those young people, for whom our system produced higher grades than those predicted by teachers, the higher grades will stand. Maintaining standards is not new for 2020, it is a feature of awarding qualifications every year in Wales, and across the UK. However, it is clear that maintaining confidence in our qualifications whilst being fair to students requires this difficult decision.”

Northern Ireland ministers this morning ditched the moderation algorithm for GCSE students – and there are rumours the Stormont executive will do the same for A-level students. Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon apologised over downgraded exam results and reinstated teacher-assessed grades for National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher qualifications.

Shaun Fenton, head of Reigate Grammar School and vice-chair of HMC, said: “I am delighted that we have clarity for young people who have an awful week, and for their families and their teachers. There are still some important details to understand university places and about appeals against CAGS, but this is a welcome step forward.”

“There are still some important details to understand university places and about appeals against CAGS, but this is a welcome step forward” – Shaun Fenton

The former chief executive of Ucas, Mary Curnock Cook, said the change to teacher-assessed grades was “likely to cause chaos” for universities. Around 40,000 students were placed at their second-choice university, or have been released into clearing, because their grades last Thursday fell short of their first-choice university offer. These students may have grounds to appeal their rejection, but their place may now have been offered to another student.

Last week, the universities of Oxford and Cambridge said that students who received the results of a successful appeal after the institutions had filled all available spaces would need to defer entry to October 2021.

“From a university admissions point of view, reverting to CAGs for A-levels and BTECs is likely to cause chaos – grade inflation creates more students qualified for university after all,” Ms Curnock Cook tweeted. She added that universities’ “capacity to accept more students who have met their conditions through CAGs will be limited – both because of the temporary cap on recruitment but in some cases, due to physical capacity too”.

The government has been under considerable pressure, not just from opposition parties at Westminster, but from the Conservative party’s own backbenchers.

Former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith said teacher assessments or mock exam results should be used instead, while Wimbledon MP Stephen Hammond criticised Ofqual’s failure to publish an appeals process for A-levels as a “shambles”.

Telford MP Lucy Allan questioned “how can anyone defend” Ofqual’s awarding of U grades to students who did not have a chance to sit examinations. Ms Allan also commended the decision taken by Worcester College, Oxford, to honour all places to UK students this year, irrespective of their A-level results. “This is the way forward for universities and employers. There were no A-levels in 2020,” she tweeted.

Education secretary Gavin Williamson commented on the u-turn, saying: “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 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…” – Gavin Williamson

“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.”

In other news: One third of UK universities admit to falling victim to ransomware attacks


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