Gavin Williamson and Ofqual have apologised to students and their parents, as they announced that all A-level and GCSE results in England will be based on teacher-assessed grades.
In a in a spectacular U-turn, the education secretary announced the government would scrap the controversial standardisation model drawn up by the exams regulator to award grades in lieu of exams.
Instead, both A-levels and GCSE results will revert to centre-assessed grades, which were submitted by schools earlier this summer.
“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,” Williamson said, in remarks released by his department.
“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 climbdown comes after days of turmoil triggered by the publication of A-level results last Thursday, when almost 40% of predicted results were downgraded, with some students marked down two or even three grades, which resulted in many losing university places.
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The move had looked inevitable after Wales said it would revert to teacher assessments for A-levels, and Northern Ireland said it would do so for GCSEs, following a similar U-turn in Scotland last week.
Hundreds of pupils took to the streets of London, demonstrating outside the Department for Education to express their anger, while others took to the airwaves and social media to describe their sense of devastation. Lawyers had began to consider taking action on behalf of affected teenagers.
The Labour leader, Keir Starmer, welcomed what he called the “screeching U-turn”, saying: “This is a victory for the thousands of young people who have powerfully made their voices heard this past week. However, the Tories’ handling of this situation has been a complete fiasco.
“Incompetence has become this government’s watchword, whether that is on schools, testing or care homes. Boris Johnson’s failure to lead is holding Britain back.”
Ministers had been under increasing pressure to act with GCSE results due to be published this Thursday for more than 600,000 year 11 pupils in England and 100,000 older students aiming for crucial passes in maths and English to qualify them for further training or study.
The algorithm used by Ofqual for both A-levels and GCSEs was mainly based on a school’s past results and individual pupil attainment. Teachers and schools were asked to submit grades, known as centre-assessed grades, but in the end these were influential in only a small number of cases.
Ofqual argued that the algorithm was essential to ensure results were standardised across the country and in line with previous years, but hundreds of individual stories documenting disappointment and an overwhelming sense of injustice among those affected proved too much to ignore.
Ofqual confirmed its decision to award centre assessment grades (CAG) to A-level, AS-level and GCSE students, adding that where a moderated grade was higher than a CAG, students could keep that grade.
Roger Taylor, Ofqual’s chair, acknowledged the standardised system had caused widespread anguish and damaged public confidence, and apologised to those affected.
“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,” he said.
“After reflection, we have decided that the best way to do this is to award grades on the basis of what teachers submitted. The switch to centre assessment grades will apply to both AS- and A-levels and to the GCSE results which students will receive later this week.
“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 [Gavin Williamson] 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.
“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.
“The path forward we now plan to implement will provide urgent clarity. We are already working with the Department for Education, universities and everyone else affected by this issue.”
The Worth Less? campaign group, which represents hundreds of secondary school headteachers, welcomed the U-turn.
“It’s a relief that this whole unedifying mess has some form of closure,” said Jules White, a secondary school headteacher and leader of Worth Less? “Students will get a much fairer deal and everyone can be pleased with that.
“Major questions remain, though: why has it taken the DfE so long to resolve matters? Why have Ofqual and the DfE just spent time blaming each other rather than acting on behalf of children, their families and schools?
“And crucially, how can we move confidently to wider school reopening when our political masters don’t understand how schools actually work?”
Paul Whiteman, the general secretary of the NAHT school leaders’ union, said: “The government has decided to rely on centre assessed grades for A level and GCSE results this year, agreeing that these are the most reliable measure of student performance.
“School leaders and teachers worked with professionalism and integrity to submit these grades for all of their students. Having taken so long to make a decision, this was the only option that government had left to deal with the unfairness.
“This decision will mean students expecting their GCSE results can have confidence that they will not experience the same unfairness or disadvantage as their older peers.
“The big question remains as to why this decision has taken so long to come, as it may already be too late for some A level students who have already missed out on their first choice of university and course. Every day of delay is going to have loaded more and more difficulty onto universities and their capacity to meet all of the demand for places that will now inevitably come their way. For them, the problem is far from over.”
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