U-turn on A-level grades appears imminent as pressure mounts

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A U-turn over the controversial system for awarding A-level results in England appears imminent after Tory MPs heaped pressure on Boris Johnson and Education Secretary Gavin Williamson to change course.

Downing Street refused to rule out a shift to a Scottish-style system based on teachers’ predicted grades rather than an algorithm aimed at standardising results.

Mr Johnson has gone on holiday to Scotland this week despite the chaos over the A-level results, but held talks with Mr Williamson and senior officials on Monday morning.

The Welsh Government announced that A-levels and GCSEs would be awarded based on the “centre assessment grades” from teachers, with minister Kirsty Williams saying it was a fair way of proceeding “given decisions elsewhere”.

Northern Ireland is expected to make a similar move for A-level results, having already confirmed it would use teachers’ assessments for GCSEs.

The Scottish Government was forced into a U-turn over results earlier this month after a backlash about the moderation system used there, giving advance notice of the chaos that would be unleashed elsewhere in the UK.

Signs that Mr Williamson will announce changes for England later on Monday came as senior ministers went public with their criticism of the system, which was put in place by regulator Ofqual after A-level exams were cancelled due to coronavirus.

Paymaster General Penny Mordaunt said she was seeking a meeting with colleagues at the Department for Education (DfE) about the issue and had made clear that if students wanted to sit the exams in the autumn there should be no fee.

“This group of young people have lost out on so much already; we must ensure that bright, capable students can progress on their next step,” she said.

The minister added that she had also “made my views on GCSE results known to DfE”.

Defence Minister Johnny Mercer said he was “acutely aware of the issues around A-level results and am equally concerned for the GCSE results on Thursday”.

In a hint that a U-turn was coming, he said: “I do not believe this is the end of the story – there are too many clear injustices.

“At this time we must not panic, and await developments. I am limited in what I can say publicly – I have had many private conversations.”

Dear young people in Plymouth:I am acutely aware of the issues around A Level results, and am equally concerned for…

Posted by Johnny Mercer on Monday, August 17, 2020

Conservative former education secretary Lord Baker of Dorking urged ministers to delay the publication of the GCSE results until the problems with A-levels have been resolved.

Downing Street said there would be no delay in the publication of GCSE results.

An announcement on A-level and GCSE results is widely expected on Monday afternoon from Mr Williamson and Ofqual.

(PA Graphics)

“The whole Government has been working hard to come up with the fairest possible system for pupils,” the Number 10 spokesman said.

“We recognise it has been an incredibly difficult year for pupils who were unable to take their exams, and many are obviously concerned and anxious about the grading system.”

As well as ministers Mr Mercer and Ms Mordaunt, a series of Tory backbenchers have called for the algorithm to be abandoned.

She called for the centre assessment grades provided by teachers to be used for GCSEs but acknowledged it would be “difficult to put that genie back in the bottle” for A-level results which have already been announced.

In a stinging criticism of the Government’s handling of the episode, she said: “It is notable that other countries in Europe have managed to find better, more creative and fairer ways than the UK of replacing or managing final school examinations during Covid-19.

“In due course, I hope the Government and Ofqual will consider the injustices that occur when the efforts, talents and dreams of children are considered to be reducible to the output from a statistical model.”

Shadow education secretary Kate Green said teachers’ predicted grades should be used for both GCSEs and A-levels.

“The injustice and chaos surrounding A-level and GCSE results must come to an end,” she said.

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