Tens of thousands of Scottish pupils will get exam results based on their predicted grades after Nicola Sturgeon’s Scottish government completed an embarrassing U-turn this afternoon.
Her SNP administration bowed to political pressure to alter course over a ‘standardisation’ system designed to tackle the fact that no exams have been sat due to coronavirus.
The process was branded ‘unfair’ by parents and teachers after pass rates for pupils in the most deprived areas were downgraded by 15.2 per cent in comparison with 6.9 per cent for pupils from the most affluent backgrounds.
Scottish Education Minister John Swinney told MSPs in Holyrood this afternoon that more than 124,000 exam results downgraded by a controversial moderation process will revert to the grades estimated by pupils’ teachers, amid calls for the SNP government to face an inquiry into the fiasco.
The U-turn will heap more pressure on Boris Johnson, with a standardisation system planned for the A-Level results which are due to be handed out on Thursday.
He is already under pressure to abandon the scheme and revert to predicted grades – leading to fears of widespread grade inflation.
As a result of the changes announced by Mr Swinney this afternoon, the new Higher pass rate for 2020 is 89.2 per cent, 14.4 per cent higher than the previous year.
The National 5 pass rate has also increased by 10.7 per cent to 88.9 per cent, as well as the Advanced Higher pass rate rising to 93.1 per cent – a rise of 13.7 per cent.
Addressing MSPs this afternoon, Mr Swinney said: ‘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.
‘Before I go any further, I want to apologise for that.
‘In speaking directly to the young people affected by the downgrading of awards – the 75,000 pupils whose teacher estimates were higher than their final award – I want to say this: I am sorry.’
Scottish Education Minister John Swinney told MSPs in Holyrood this afternoon that more than 124,000 exam results downgraded by a controversial moderation process will revert to the grades estimated by pupils’ teachers, amid calls for the SNP government to face an inquiry into the fiasco
Ms Sturgeon admitted the Scottish government ‘did not get it right’, amid complaints that children have been punished to fit in with a model of how the overall results should look
Thousands of English 18-year-olds are due to get their results on Thursday despite not sitting exams due to coronavirus , using a ‘standardisation’ system
Former Ofsted chief Michael Wilshaw told Sky News: ‘I am concerned and I suspect a lot of other people will be very concerned that we don’t see a replication of what happened in Scotland’
How are exams being graded and what does it mean for uni places?
What could go wrong with results?
TO stop this year’s results being seen as worthless, both England and Scotland tried to shift teachers’ estimated grades down, so they matched the trends of previous years.
In Scotland this resulted in the ‘attainment gap’ between the richest and poorest being replicated, so that the ‘most deprived’ pupils had their marks reduced by 15.2 per cent, but the richest had reductions of only 6.9 per cent.
This affected the most talented pupils in poorly performing schools the worst, meaning those expecting top grades were dragged down because of their school’s record.
The outrage at the situation has led to a U-turn to be announced today.
How will appeals in England work?
PUPILS will not be able to challenge the grades their teachers decided. Appeals must be made by schools – not pupils.
They are likely to be successful if a school’s past performance is unlikely to be a useful measure of predictions.
Most importantly, appeals will now be allowed if ‘unusually high or low ability pupils [have] been affected because they fall outside the pattern of results’.
Schools will need to submit evidence, and there are worries over how long the process could take.
What if appeals fail?
FOR pupils who are told there is not enough evidence to appeal, or have it rejected, they will have only the option of resitting in the autumn. They will be able to use the higher of the two grades. In cases where pupils suspect racism or bias behind teachers’ decision-making, their only option is raise a complaint, rather than use the appeals process.
What about pupils hoping to go to university this year?
THE Education Secretary has said universities should ‘do all they can to ensure pupils can progress to higher education’.
Those pupils who miss out on an offer need to be ready to contact their university of choice and explain why they feel they should be admitted despite their marks, as they wait for appeals to be dealt with.
If pupils need to do resits, it may be possible to start their university courses in the new year, after sitting exams in the autumn and getting results before Christmas.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the ASCL union, said: ‘There are good reasons for standardisation because it means this year’s grades are kept roughly in line with other years so that there is fairness to students over time.
‘But there is clearly a tension when this leads to a situation where centre-assessed grades which were submitted in good faith by schools and colleges are then pulled down because of a statistical model, particularly if this detrimentally impacts on disadvantaged students.’
He added: ‘The decision in Scotland will put pressure on authorities in the other home nations to follow suit, and we will have to see how this plays out.’
Former Ofsted chief Michael Wilshaw earlier told Sky News: ‘I am concerned and I suspect a lot of other people will be very concerned that we don’t see a replication of what happened in Scotland, which has shown a large number of downgrades and a disproportionate number of downgrades of youngsters from poor backgrounds in some of the most disadvantaged schools.
‘That must not happen here, and I hope Ofqual, the regulators of exam systems in England, are aware of the dangers of that, and are going to be taking remedial steps if that does happen.
‘What has happened in Scotland and may happen here in England and Wales is that there has been an imbalance in the judgements made between the schools performance and its history of examination performance, and taking into account individual student performance.
‘If there is an imbalance in that and they get that balance wrong then things will go badly wrong.’
The methodology used by the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) saw grades estimated by teachers downgraded based on criteria included the historic performance of the school.
This led to criticism that it unfairly penalised high-achieving students from schools with historically poor results.
Mr Swinney’s Tory shadow Jamie Greene had earlier said: ‘It’s clear that the only way forward is for a full parliamentary inquiry into the exam results scandal to take place.
‘This has been one of the greatest failures of this SNP government and people deserve answers.’
Ucas chief executive Clare Marchant weighed in this afternoon, saying she is expecting universities to be ‘super flexible’ with near-miss candidates who have dropped ‘one or two grades’ in England.
Sir Michael said there would always be pupils in badly performing schools who ‘defy the odds’ and perform well, but said Ofqual should ensure they ‘drill down’ into the results of each and every school and ‘really look at it in depth’ before changing marks.
‘Youngsters and their families should have the right to appeal… parents should have that right. And that right does not exist at the moment, and I hope the government and DfE changes tack on that one,’ he said.
Sir Michael said: ‘I know it will be expensive and it could be a long and tortuous process, but we are talking about children’s lives and their futures here.’
He added: ‘We have put so much money into the furloughing scheme, we should spend a bit more on getting this right.’
Schools were asked to submit the grades they thought students would have received if they had sat the exams. Exam boards have moderated these grades to ensure this year’s results are not significantly higher than previous years and the value of students’ grades are not undermined.
Last month, Ofqual said this summer’s A-level results would have been 12 percentage points better than last year if teacher-assessment grades had not gone through standardisation.
Liberal Democrat education spokeswoman Layla Moran said: ‘Ministers must learn the lessons from the chaos over results in Scotland. We do not want to see more young people unfairly penalised by Covid-19 grade awards systems.
‘To prevent this, we need the government to make clear that individual pupils will be able to appeal their grade awards directly with Ofqual without charge, and to sit these examinations at no cost, when it is safe to do so, should they wish to.’
Unis urged to be ‘super-flexible’ on downgrades
The head of Ucas said she expects expecting universities to be ‘super flexible’ with near-miss candidates who have dropped ‘one or two grades’ in England.
Chief executive Clare Marchantsaid she expected higher education institutions to be ‘more flexible than ever before,’ if standardisation takes place.
But she also warned that students should be wary about taking exams in the autumn if they are unhappy with their grades as there will be a ‘narrower’ choice of university courses.
‘I don’t think we should kid students that there’s as much choice in January as there would be for an autumn start date at a university. There’s a much narrower choice,’ Ms Marchant told a Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi) webinar.
‘If you’ve got a result and you can move on, move on,’ she said.
On the autumn exams, Ms Marchant added: ‘It will be right for some students but they’ve got to be really clear that there’s not an option for them to progress to HE without doing that.
‘I do think for the vast majority either they will get what they want, or they’ll exceed it, or they may have a near-miss in which case the conversation with the university is paramount.’
Ms Marchant warned that students should be wary about taking exams in the autumn if they are unhappy with their A-level grades as there will be a ‘narrower’ choice of university courses.
She advised students to ‘move on’ with the grades they receive this week if they still allow them to progress into higher education.
She said only a limited number of universities will offer courses that start in January for students sitting exams in the autumn.
‘I don’t think we should kid students that there’s as much choice in January as there would be for an autumn start date at a university. There’s a much narrower choice,’ Ms Marchant said.
Speaking to a Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi) webinar, the Ucas boss urged caution over rushing to sit an exam, rather than accepting a university place or appealing results.
‘If you’ve got a result and you can move on, move on,’ she said.
The rethink has raised concerns that England could see a similar furore over GCSE and A-Level results.
Boris Johnson said yesterday he understood the ‘anxiety’ caused by replacing exams with assessments, after they were effectively wiped out by coronavirus.
But the PM’s official spokesman said they believed the arrangements would go ahead and be ‘fair for all students’.
Ms Sturgeon came under attack on all sides today after presiding over an exam results shambles that sparked an embarrassing U-turn on live television.
The First Minister apologised for ‘standardisation’ blunders that saw grades for 125,000 Scottish pupils marked down.
Scottish Education Minister John Swinney (left) will unveil how he intends to fix the problems this afternoon. His Tory shadow Jamie Greene (right) said: ‘It’s clear that the only way forward is for a full parliamentary inquiry into the exam results scandal to take place’
The Prime Minister visits Hereford County Hospital today as he announces £300m will go towards hospitals to Covid-proof their facilities
Members of staff speak with the Prime Minister during his visit to Hereford County Hospital today
How will grades be calculated with no exams sat this summer?
After this summer’s exams were cancelled, teachers were told to submit the grades they thought each student would have received if they had sat the papers.
The predictions were sent to the exam boards alongside a rank order of which students they believed would do best within each grade for each subject.
Exam boards have moderated these school-assessed grades to ensure this year’s results are not significantly higher than previous years and the value of students’ grades are not undermined.
As part of the standardisation process, exam boards have also taken into account historical performance data to determine the proportion of students who achieved each grade in previous years.
Individual grades may have been adjusted upwards or downwards after moderation. This means that the final grade awarded to a student could be different from the one their school or college submitted.
The First Minister admitted the Scottish government ‘did not get it right’, amid complaints that individual children have been punished to fit in with a model of how the overall results should look.
Both Labour and the Tories called for the SNP minister’s head today, with the U-turn doing little to quell the widespread anger.
While the SQA developed the methodology, the First Minister ‘absolved’ the qualifications authority of responsibility because it was done at the behest of Scottish ministers.
Speaking on a visit to a school in London about the exams in England, Mr Johnson said: ‘Clearly, because of what has happened this year, there is some anxiety about what grades pupils are going to get, and everybody understands the system that the teachers are setting the grades, then there’s a standardisation system.’
The Prime Minister’s spokesman said: ‘There is a standardisation process in place but if students are unhappy with their grade then they are able to appeal or they are able to take examinations in the autumn.
‘We would expect that the vast majority of students will receive a calculated grade this summer that enables them to move on to the next stage of their education or training.’
Scottish Labour is set to mount a no-confidence vote against Mr Swinney in Holyrood and the Conservatives saying they will support it.
Labour’s Holyrood education spokesman Iain Gray told the Guardian: ‘It is frankly hypocritical for the first minister to apologise today after refusing to accept for over a week that an injustice had occurred.
‘This apology is more concerned with protecting John Swinney’s job than facing up to the failures of her government.
‘A belated and forced apology is not good enough. We need an immediate return to the grades recommended by teachers for those who saw their grades reduced. It’s time pupils and teachers got justice and Swinney got his jotters.’
Universities urged to hold places for A-level challengers
Universities have been urged to hold places for students challenging their A-level grades until they receive the outcome of the appeal.
Universities Minister Michelle Donelan has called on institutions to be ‘flexible’ and take into account a range of evidence when choosing which students to admit ahead of A-level results day.
Students whose grades meet their university offer conditions following a successful appeal will be exempt from counting towards the Government’s temporary student number controls, Ms Donelan said.
It comes amid fears that students could miss out on their first-choice university if the exam boards take a long time to process appeals after exams were cancelled amid Covid-19.
Ms Donelan said some talented pupils’ achievements may not be reflected in the grades – especially in schools that have not had strong results in the past.
In a letter to vice-chancellors ahead of A-level results day on Thursday, she said: ‘We expect the vast majority of grades to be accurate, but it is essential that we have this safety net for young people who may otherwise be held back from moving on to their chosen route.’
The universities minister urged: ‘Where you are aware that a student’s grade may change as the result of an appeal, I would encourage you, where possible, to hold their place until they receive the result of that appeal.’
The Ucas deadline – for applicants to meet their academic offer conditions – is September 7, which leaves exam boards less than four weeks to issue outcomes of appeals.
In the letter, Ms Donelan said: ‘I know that the exam boards are committed to doing all that is possible to resolve appeals for affected candidates by that date. For all other candidates, the exam boards will aim to respond within 42 calendar days, and earlier wherever possible.’