Exams U-turn: Teacher grades to be used in England, Wales and NI as algorithm scrapped

A-level and GCSE students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland will be handed exam grades as predicted by their teachers instead of a controversial algorithm.

The move marks a stark U-turn by both Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Education Secretary Gavin Williamson, and comes after growing fury from pupils and Tory MPs about the handling of the results crisis.

Ministers have been coming under pressure for several days over the system to grade students whose exams were cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Exam desk in a hall
Image: Exams were cancelled due to the pandemic

In England, nearly 40% of A-level marks were downgraded, while the system also appeared to advantage private schools, which saw nearly double the number of increase in top marks year-on-year compared to state comprehensives.

The controversial algorithm led to heartbreaking stories from pupils missing out on places based on the performance of their school over recent years.

Scotland was the first nation to scrap the moderated grades and let students have what they were predicted by teachers.

Then Northern Ireland followed suit followed by Wales and at 4pm on Monday afternoon, England.

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson has defended the A-level results announced in England as 'robust and reliable'
PM defended A-level results as ‘robust’

The head of exam regulator Ofqual, Roger Taylor, said the change was made after “seeing the experience” of students’ “distress” and “anxiety”.

“We realised that we had taken the wrong road here and we needed to change course,” he admitted.

“It became very clear to us that this was not commanding public support.”

The revised A-level results will be loaded into UCAS’ systems “by the end of this week”, Mr Taylor promised, but he did not deny that for some students who accepted offers based on the lower results they got last Thursday, it may be too late.

Mr Johnson had defended the system last week, saying it was “robust” and “dependable”.

His spokesman also said on Monday that: “Ofqual continues to have the support of the PM.”

Mr Williamson, who only has jurisdiction for education in England given it is a devolved matter, also told Sky News last week that there would be no U-turn.

Asked if he could rule it out, the education secretary said: “Absolutely, when we’ve consulted widely, when Ofqual consulted widely [on] the whole system of awarding, this is the message that we got from everyone – this is the right approach to go forward.

“You’ve got to have a system that has checks and balances, that looks at the whole performance and making sure you maintain standards within the exam system, to ensure those results carry credibility.”

Pupils in Mr Williamson’s South Staffordshire constituency angry at the situation marched from their high school to his office on Monday.

They carried placards saying “sack Gavin”, “your algorithm doesn’t know me” and “stop playing postcode politics”.

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