Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 1 October 2020

Fury over 'utterly unfair and unfathomable' English A-Level results

England’s school leaders have hit out at the moderation system which has lowered 40 per cent of grades

English authorities reassured school pupils they would be graded fairly for exams missed because of the coronavirus. AFP
English authorities reassured school pupils they would be graded fairly for exams missed because of the coronavirus. AFP

Nearly 40 per cent of teacher-predicted A-Level grades have been revised downwards in England by an exam board moderation system described as unfair, as school leaders warned of the detrimental effect on pupils.

While there has been a 2.4 per cent rise in the awarding of Grade As, the head teachers' union said there was concern that this disguised the volatility in the results.

In England, 36 per cent of results were lowered by one grade, 3 per cent by two grades and 2 per cent were increased.

Geoff Barton, the head of the Association of School and College Leaders, said there was disgruntlement from senior teachers who felt that marks had been pulled down in an “utterly unfair and unfathomable” way.

“They worked very hard to provide accurate grades to the exam boards, carefully following all the guidance, and are dismayed that the statistical model then used to standardise these grades has had such a devastating impact,” he said.

The Covid-19 outbreak meant physical exams planned for the early summer were cancelled and A-Level grades instead have been based on an assessment by teachers. This was then moderated by the exam boards via a system that took into account the historical performance of the school, which critics said unfairly targeted pupils from poorer areas.

But Mr Baron said “that the statistical process has proved to be far too blunt an instrument and has created clear injustices”.

The government had sought to defuse the growing anger when – only two days before results were published – it announced that pupils unhappy with their moderated result would be able to challenge it based on their mock exams taken earlier this year or sit new exams in the autumn.

The Sixth Form Colleges Association said research it conducted found the government model to determine results was flawed and unreliable.

Government urged to take remedial action

Mr Barton said it was vital the government and exams regulator Ofqual reviewed the situation.

“It is not sufficient for the government to dismiss these concerns by saying that schools and colleges can attempt to battle their way through the appeals process, or that students who are not satisfied can enter the autumn exam series some seven to eight months after they finished their courses, and are no longer at the centre where they studied,” he said.

Pupils will be able to sit exams in the autumn. AFP
Pupils will be able to sit exams in the autumn. AFP

Universities also complained that they did not know how the appeals process would work, and Sir Keir Starmer, leader of the opposition Labour Party, said the last-minute changes caused “widespread chaos".

Much of the angst can be traced back to earlier this year when teachers were asked to predict their pupils’ grades as it became clear that physical exams would be impossible to sit.

At A-Level, the predicted grades were 12.5 per cent higher than in 2019, a figure that officials felt would undermine the credibility of the final results.

Scotland was forced to reverse its downgraded results for its national qualifications on Tuesday after dismay and protests sparked by an exam board moderation process that led to the lowering of grades for 75,000 young people.

Updated: August 13, 2020 06:56 PM

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