Fears grew today over a generation of children receiving over-optimistic exam results after the move to give them a ‘triple lock’ on their A-level and GCSE grades.
The 11th hour decision will allow pupils to use the grades from mock exams as the basis for appeals, but union leaders swiped that the tests are ‘called mocks for a reason’.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson made the announcement just 36 hours before A-level results are released, in a desperate bid to head off pressure to copy Scotland’s full U-turn on ‘standardising’ grades .
After exams were scrapped due to the coronavirus crisis, a new system was designed to award pupils marks based on teachers’ assessments, adjusted by regulator Ofqual to take account of other factors such as the historic performance of schools.
Students will now be able to either take the grades they are awarded, use their mocks as the grounds for an appeal, or sit exams in the autumn.
But the government has resisted calls to ditch the ‘standardisation’ process altogether, as has happened in Scotland following a massive backlash.
Ofqual has warned that not moderating the marks awarded by teachers would lead to huge grade inflation – with a 12 percentage point rise in the pass rates for A-Levels and 9 per cent for GCSEs.
Research by University College London released yesterday showed that up to 74 per cent of predicted grades are an overestimate of exam performance.
The study by UCL’s Institute of Education also showed 80 per cent of teacher predictions of A-level outcomes from a previous year were inaccurate.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has been forced to offer an unprecedented ‘triple lock’ in the wake of the Scottish exams fiasco
He added that this was because mock exams were not standardised and some students may not have taken them before schools closed in March.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, warned that the new plan created potential for ‘massive inconsistency’.
Mr Barton said: ‘The idea of introducing at the eleventh hour a system in which mock exam results trump calculated grades beggars belief.
‘The Government doesn’t appear to understand how mock exams work. They aren’t a set of exams which all conform to the same standards. The clue is in the name ‘mock’.
‘Schools and colleges have spent months diligently following detailed guidance to produce centre-assessed grades only to find they might as well not have bothered.
‘If the government wanted to change the system it should have spent at least a few days discussing the options rather than rushing out a panicked and chaotic response.’
He also told BBC Breakfast today: ‘I think perhaps in response to what’s happened in Scotland, what the Government is saying is we need to give another form of appeal to young people.
‘And if what that means is they can say ‘point to my mock results, that shows I am better than my final results’.
‘So long as that’s not automatically guaranteeing that they’re going to get that result, which I think just adds another inequality, then I can understand the thinking there – and I suspect it’s a Government wanting to show that it too, like the Government in Scotland, is being sympathetic to children and young people in unprecedented times.’
Meanwhile it was suggested middle-ranking students could face a ‘lottery’ of grades after exams were cancelled this summer.
There are warnings that similar students could get ‘very different’ A-level grades, which may have a ‘considerable bearing’ on their opportunities.
Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at the University of Buckingham said: ‘While teachers will generally have a clear idea of the top performers and those who struggle the most, they will be hard-pressed to distinguish those in the middle.’
And Jo Grady, general secretary of University and College Union (UCU), said: ‘The rest of the UK must now ensure that no student misses out because of a flawed system of awarding marks.’
This week Prime Minister Boris Johnson (pictured during a visit to St Joseph’s Catholic School in Upminster, London) insisted the country had a ‘moral duty’ to reopen schools next month
Mr Williamson was forced to offer the unprecedented ‘triple lock’, which will also apply to GCSE pupils, after Nicola Sturgeon performed a U-turn on Scotland’s exam results.
Last week, Scottish pupils sitting the equivalent of A-levels received their computer-moderated grades under a similar system to that being used in the rest of the UK.
However, 125,000 results – about one in four – were downgraded from what teachers had predicted, leading to an outcry and complaints that disadvantaged pupils had been hardest hit.
Speaking about the UCL study on predicted grades, Professor Lindsey Macmillan said yesterday: ‘This research raises the question of why we use predicted grades at such a crucial part of our education system.
‘This isn’t teachers’ fault – it’s a near-impossible task. Most worryingly, there are implications for equity, as pupils in comprehensives are harder to predict.
‘Our work shows that these pupils have more noisy trajectories from GCSE to A level. If you’re a straight-A student at a grammar or private school, you’re more likely to continue that to A levels.
‘But this research is telling us there’s a lot more movement around the grades between the two exam levels for comprehensive students.’
Education minister Nick Gibb defended the Government’s decision to allow students to use their mock exam results.
Mr Gibb said only a small number would be affected by the move, which was designed as a ‘safety net’ to ensure that no students were disadvantaged by the system for assessing their grades following the cancelling of exams.
‘It is just making sure at the edges that no student is disadvantaged. This is just to give a safety net for any student who might fall through the system,’ he told Sky News.
‘It will only affect a small group of people. Most young people tomorrow will get the grade that the teacher sent in to the exam board that they thought they would get.’
He said he believed that the system for assessing A-level and GCSE results remained ‘robust’ following the latest Government changes.
The Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a visit to the construction site of Hereford County Hospital in Herefordshire
‘I am confident that we have a system in place now that is fair and robust and will enable young people to go on to the next phase of their lives,’ he told Sky News.
‘It is a system that is in place that will not lead to inflation to our grade system, so young people can be proud of the qualifications they get tomorrow.’
But shadow education secretary Kate Green described the Government’s announcement on English students using mock exam results to progress to college and university as ‘chaotic’.
The MP for Stretford and Urmston said one of the problems is many students would not have sat mock exams.
‘I don’t think this is a perfect answer at all to what is now becoming a really chaotic situation,’ she told BBC Breakfast.
‘And very, very worrying for (A-level) students the day before they’re due to get their results finding the system changing again.’
She added: ‘Not all students will have even taken mock exams and what we’ve now got is a system which clearly is not fit for purpose. The Government itself is clearly acknowledging that by announcing more and more changes to it.’
Ms Green said there needed to be a ‘proper robust’ appeals process for students so that they are not dependant on ‘systems that may not fairly reflect the work that they’ve done’.
Giving students the opportunity to retake A-level exams in October is ‘not an adequate response’, shadow education secretary Kate Green said.
Speaking to BBC Breakfast, she said: ‘While it’s useful to have as a backstop, there are a couple of concerns with it.
‘That will come too late in the day for students who, for example, want to start a college course in September, they won’t have their results on time.
‘And how are these retakes going to be organised? Schools are already having to make a lot of changes to the school day, to the school premises, to how they organise school when children go back next month because of the need for social distancing.
‘So we’re still waiting for more information as to how it is that schools will be supported to run these retakes.
‘It’s important to have them as a backstop, but that is not either an adequate response.’
Ms Green also said there was a risk that students from disadvantaged backgrounds in England would being adversely affected by moderated results based on teacher’s predictions.
‘I think the core of the option is the right one to have on the table, and especially at this eleventh hour changing the system again is not welcome, but it needs to be made significantly more robust,’ she told BBC Breakfast.
She said students needed to be able to appeal if they feel they have been wrongly assessed.
A-level students receiving their results tomorrow will now be able to opt for the grades they got in their mock exams. (Stock image)
‘We need to understand exactly which students are affected. We haven’t even seen the model that’s been applied to doing this standardisation yet,’ she said.
‘And what we do know from Scotland is that there is a risk that it could be students from more disadvantaged communities who are being disproportionately affected.’
Ms Green said GCSE students should not be downgraded below a level 4 – the equivalent of the old grade C – in English and maths.
‘Those subjects are so crucial for a student’s future path, whether into their chosen career or further study,’ she told BBC Breakfast.
‘And given the disruption that they have suffered this year to their education we do think it’s particularly important that we protect this Covid generation from further damage.’
When asked whether she would expect the Government to apologise for making a late announcement 24 hours before A-level results are due in England, Ms Green said students were more concerned about getting reassurance.
‘I think that’s fair enough,’ Ms Green told BBC Breakfast. ‘What students and their families and teachers are concerned about is getting a fair assessment process.’
She added: ‘What I think we desperately need is reassurance to students that they will be treated fairly, that their lives will not be damaged by this chaos that we’ve seen over the last few days in relation to their results.
‘And I think that’s what students are looking for, confidence that they can get on with their lives, and that the work that they have done, the hard work that they’ve put in, is going to be properly recognised.’
Mr Gibb also told how that in making changes to the exam system in England, the Government had looked at what had happened in Scotland.
‘We did look at what happened in Scotland. We were worried about that. We are not changing the fundamental system here as they are in Scotland,’ he told BBC Breakfast.
Mr Gibb insisted that the system was not in ‘confusion’ and refused to apologise for the late changes.
‘There is no confusion. We have been very clear from the very beginning. We had to have a system in place to award qualifications to young people given that we had cancelled the exams,’ he said.
‘With the best model in the world there will be students who fall outside it. We didn’t want any students to suffer disadvantage.
‘We apologise to nobody for finding solutions – even at the eleventh hour – to stop any student being disadvantaged by this system.’
Yesterday, the Scottish government opted for a humiliating U-turn and said that despite concerns over grade inflation, all results would now revert to those that teachers had predicted.
Government ministers are thought to be nervous about a similar row erupting in England when A-level results are released tomorrow.
Mr Williamson said England would not allow teachers’ predicted grades to stand, because it would lead to unacceptable grade inflation from the previous year.
He insisted his new system would ensure pupils received the ‘fairest results possible’ after the summer exams were cancelled due to the pandemic.
The last-minute change will lead to further accusations that the Government has not got a grip of yet another aspect of the crisis, following failures over care homes, schools, testing, travel and the provision of PPE to NHS staff.
Mr Williamson said: ‘Every young person waiting for their results wants to know that they have been treated fairly.
‘By ensuring students have the safety net of their mock results as well as the chance of sitting autumn exams, we are creating a triple-lock process to ensure they can have the confidence to take the next steps forward in work or education.’
Schools will need to demonstrate to exams regulator Ofqual that mocks were taken in exam-like conditions, but the process is expected to be significantly streamlined.
The Government said it would set aside £30 million to fund autumn exams for all schools, easing the burden on budgets already stretched to deal with coronavirus measures.
‘The SNP failed the test, but we have done more revision,’ one government source said.
‘This decision in Scotland was a bad decision. It means that in Scotland there are now students walking round with inflated grades that no one will take seriously.
‘It’s not fair for students this year and it’s not fair for students last year. Our system is fundamentally fairer.’
In Scotland, outrage was prompted by the system resulting in deprived students being treated more than twice as harshly as the best-off.
Fighting for his political career yesterday, SNP education secretary John Swinney said the standardisation would be unwound.
‘We set out to ensure that the system was fair. We set out to ensure it was credible. But we did not get it right for all young people,’ he said.
Only days earlier, Mr Swinney had justified the exams procedure by revealing that without it, top grades would have surged by up to an unprecedented 14 per cent.
Yesterday’s decision means this inflation will come to pass – and raises questions as to how next year’s students will be treated, and whether last year’s pupils will protest.
Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said: ‘They have gone for the most generous option they could have gone for.
‘But the decision results in a whole load of questions about whether other exams were fair – for the people that took exams last year and the ones who will take exams next year.
Anyone who thinks this announcement removes any unfairness is plain wrong. In fact, it introduced new unfairnesses for other people.’
Despite the concerns, government critics lined up to demand a similar about-turn in England.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the Government risked ‘robbing a generation of young people of their future’ unless the grading system in England was also abandoned.
National Union of Students president Larissa Kennedy agreed ‘the UK Government should follow the lead of Scotland by scrapping moderated grades’.
Scottish exam chiefs are accused of ‘tarnishing’ their relationship with teachers amid country’s grading fiasco
By Rachel Watson, Deputy Scottish Political Editor for the Daily Mail
Exam chiefs have ‘tarnished’ their relationship with teachers following the fiasco over grades, according to union bosses.
They accused the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) of failing to listen to serious concerns raised by the profession ahead of the publication of pupil grades last week.
Following John Swinney’s dramatic U-turn, unions and teachers yesterday launched a blistering attack on those behind the original decision to downgrade pupils’ results based on their school’s previous performance.
Teaching union the Educational Institute for Scotland (EIS) and the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) led the criticism, warning that the row and failure to recognise students as individuals had caused additional stress and upset for thousands during an already uncertain time.
They also branded the Education Secretary’s claims that exams are due to go ahead as planned in 2021 as ‘woefully complacent’.
Following the cancellation of exams, teachers had been asked to submit a grade for each pupil based on their performance over the year and in prelims and to rank students in order.
Their decisions were then ‘moderated’ by the SQA.
But the process sparked outrage after almost 125,000 grades were overturned by SQA bosses.
Yesterday, EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said the nation’s teachers had been ‘extremely diligent’ in making professional judgments on pupil grades, claiming that they ‘even went the extra mile asked of them by the SQA in subdividing bandings and rankings’ for youngsters, despite their ‘concerns’ over the process.
He said the EIS had warned that ‘overturning these estimates’ using statistical modelling from previous years ‘would lead to an outcry – exactly what has happened’.
Mr Flanagan hit out at the lack of engagement between the SQA and teachers – claiming that bosses ‘refused’ to hold professional dialogue with the profession.
He added: ‘Its standing amongst teachers is undoubtedly tarnished by its role in these matters.’
Mr Flanagan believes the SQA needs to be ‘more accountable to the teaching profession, parents and pupils’ rather than the Scottish Government and ministers must address how the exam system ‘regularly fails children through operating notional quotas’.
The union chief warned that a contingency plan should be in place in case exams are cancelled again next year.
Mr Flanagan said: ‘The current planning for next year’s exam diet on the basis of business as usual seems woefully complacent. Scotland’s young people and their teachers must not suffer the same fiasco again.’
Mr Flanagan’s anger was echoed by Rozanne Foyer, general secretary of the STUC.
She said: ‘There was never going to be a perfect solution given the crisis we were in, but further disadvantaging young working-class people at this time of multiple stress and uncertainty would have been a crime.’
Miss Foyer accused the SQA of having a ‘lack of faith in the judgment of teachers’ and said the downgrading of pupils was ‘totally unacceptable’.
She said: ‘Teachers were tasked to use their judgment and professionalism to predict young people’s grades.
‘A timely and robust process was followed by schools to ensure they got it right for the young people in their care and that no young person would be disadvantaged as a result of exam cancellations.
‘The wholesale downgrading of pupils and lack of faith in the judgment of teachers – who know their pupils best – because of the schools in question was totally unacceptable.’
The deadline for urgent appeals to be made – for youngsters hoping to go to university – was set for August 14, sparking a rush among teachers to speak to pupils and their families ahead of submitting their grades for a review.
Dorothy MacGinty, headmistress of the independent Kilgraston School, near Perth, said the SQA’s moderation process had led to stress and ‘avoidable unhappiness’ for families across Scotland.
She said: ‘The SQA took a whole tranche of results, especially in English and maths, and downgraded them at Higher level.
‘This caused a huge level of unnecessary stress for pupils and a vast amount of work for teachers this week coming in and working through hundreds of pages of work to appeal.
‘Of course, it’s good that we’ve got the decision turned around but this has caused a huge amount of avoidable unhappiness.’
Speaking to the BBC, Kathryn Neil, an art and photography teacher in Angus, said she was ‘so tearful and so happy’ at the U-turn. She said: ‘It means the world to us. It means the world to them.
‘We know how hard they’ve worked. We know the grade they deserve. We’ve done our job, we’ve got them their grades and that’s what they deserve.’
Although happy with the U-turn, campaigners have claimed it was motivated by fears over the consequences of the fiasco rather than concern for individual youngsters.
Shona Struthers, chief executive of Colleges Scotland, said the Deputy First Minister’s statement had provided ‘clarification’.
She added: ‘We are pleased that the Scottish Government will ensure there are enough places at colleges to enable young people to continue on to further and higher education courses.
‘Colleges will continue to do everything possible to support students with aspirations of coming to college, and we look forward to welcoming all new and returning students back to campuses when the new term starts.
‘We acknowledge the difficulties that the global pandemic has presented us all with, however, colleges have been working hard to ensure that they can continue delivering high-quality learning and teaching safely.’
Erin Bleakley, 17, who organised a protest of around 100 pupils in George Square, Glasgow, over how results were reached, said: ‘I did not think this day would come.’
The teenager, who attends St Andrew’s High School in the east end of the city, previously said she ‘crumbled’ when four of her six results were downgraded.
After the U-turn, she said: ‘I think we would all like to say a generous thank-you for not only the apology but the results being reverted back to teacher estimates.’
Joel Meekison, from the SQA: Where’s Our Say campaign, said: ‘I don’t think that it was problems over what people achieved that made John Swinney stand up and change it.
‘I think it was anger and danger over the exam system being perceived as penalising marginalised groups and penalising the most vulnerable and deprived areas.’
A spokesman for the SQA said it acknowledged the strength of feeling ‘among individual learners, their parents and carers – and among wider colleagues in the education system’.