A-levels: Government and Ofqual threatened with legal action over grading row | UK News

The government and the exams regulator are being threatened with legal action as pressure mounts for a rethink over the awarding of A-level grades.

Hundreds of angry students are demonstrating in Westminster, with some chanting “get Gav gone” and “come out Gavin” as they protested outside Education Secretary Gavin Williamson’s departmental building.

Footage has also been shared online of one student burning her A-level results in Parliament Square.

Around 280,000 students saw their A-level grades fall by one grade or more from their predicted results following the introduction of a new “moderation” algorithm, which was put in place after the coronavirus lockdown led to exams being cancelled.

Further confusion was added to the row on Saturday night when Ofqual, the exams regulator, suddenly suspended its own policy for students wishing to appeal their results.

How the A-level algorithm works

Just hours after Ofqual published its criteria for mock exam results to be considered as the basis of an appeal, the guidance was withdrawn and the regulator said it was reviewing the policy.

“Earlier today we published information about mock exam results in appeals,” Ofqual said in a statement.

“This policy is being reviewed by the Ofqual Board and further information will be published in due course.”

Mr Williamson had been accused of abandoning his promise of a “triple lock” for students following the announcement of Ofqual’s criteria for using mock exams in appeals.

He has said pupils can use their mock results, resit exams in the autumn, or accept the grade they had been awarded.

The Ofqual guidance said that if the mock result was higher than the teacher’s prediction, it was the teacher’s prediction which would count.

Conservative MP Robert Halfon, the chair of the House of Commons’ Education Committee, branded Ofqual’s actions “unacceptable” as he called for the “huge mess” to be sorted out.

Many other unhappy Tory MPs were said to be making their views known to the party’s whips.

Labour claimed the A-level results row was a “fiasco turning from tragedy to farce” as they called on Boris Johnson to “get a grip”.

They demanded the prime minister hold a news conference within the next 24 hours to explain to parents, teachers and young people “how he will end this historic injustice”.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT head teachers’ union, said it was “quite clear that the rules are being written and rewritten on the hoof” and that thousands of students were “suffering” as a result.

He called on the government and Ofqual automatically to review the 25,000 results which were two or more grades below their teachers’ predictions.

Students have been left furious by the new system, with many losing their places on their chosen university courses after not meeting the required grades.

School leavers entering a highly-competitive jobs market are also fearing the impact of their predicted results being downgraded.

Campaigners have promised to begin High Court proceedings against Mr Williamson and Ofqual this week unless they perform a climbdown on the use of the algorithim.

Jolyon Maugham QC, who heads the Good Law Project, told Sky News: “This morning we sent a letter to Ofqual, copying in Gavin Williamson.

“We make three points in that letter; we say, firstly, the absence of an appeal system – a meaningful appeal system – for individual students is unlawful.

“Second, we say the system – taken as a whole – is so unfair as also to be unlawful.

“And thirdly, we point to Ofqual’s statutory obligation to ensure that accurate grades are delivered and we say that its failure to do that, again, is unlawful.”

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson in Downing Street following a cabinet meeting ahead of the Budget.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has been sent notice of legal action

Ofqual has defended its moderation of A-level grades, saying that some schools and colleges had submitted “implausibly high” A-level predictions.

But Mr Maugham argued the regulator “hasn’t really paid enough attention to the quality of individual students”.

He accused Ofqual of “embedding structural inequality” following widespread criticism that the regulator’s algorithm disproportionately penalised students from schools in disadvantaged communities.

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

PM defends A-level results as ‘robust’

The Sunday Times reported other students and parents are considering legal action, including Curtis Parfitt-Ford – a student whose petition calling for a fairer system has now been signed by more than 225,000 people.

Meanwhile, The Observer reported more than 4.6 million GCSEs in England – about 97% of the total – will be assigned solely by Ofqual’s algorithm.

Lord Baker, a former Conservative education secretary, called for the postponement of the publication of GCSE results for two weeks due to the “unfair and barely explicable downgrades” of A-levels.

He told the PA news agency: “I urge the education secretary to instruct Ofqual not to release the GCSEs results this Thursday as their algorithm is flawed.”

Natalie Perera, executive director of the Education Policy Institute think tank, told the newspaper: “We will almost certainly see a repeat of the many problems seen with A-levels, only with GCSEs they could be more severe.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Ofqual has a robust model in place to ensure results this year are fair for pupils despite them not having been able to sit exams this year.

“Standardisation ensures grades are fair for students and without it, we would see results that are substantially inflated, significantly undermining their value.”

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The government has confirmed schools in England will be able to appeal against A-level and GCSE grades for free.

State-funded schools and colleges will also be able to claim back the cost of unsuccessful appeals as well as fees for autumn exams, the Department for Education said.

Students in Wales will also be able to appeal against their A-level grades if they are lower than teachers’ predictions.

The Welsh government announced the plan following an outcry over 42% of all A-level grades in the country being lowered during the moderation process.

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UK coronavirus LIVE: Public Health England ‘to be replaced’ as Ofqual ‘reviews’ A Level mock exam appeals guidance

‘Unfair’: Three friends must quarantine after returning from France despite negative tests


Three friends returning to London from France have said they will have to quarantine despite all testing negative for coronavirus in the past week.

School worker Lou Le Mener, 23, student Aurelia Crea and IT worker Marine Coupe, 25, all French nationals living together in London, arrived back at St Pancras on Saturday evening after visiting family.

Ms Crea said: “We wanted to come back yesterday but it was about 300 euros a ticket and the website was crashing. Then you have a lot of people in the same place, crowded trying to come back. The Eurostar today was very quiet.

“I feel it’s unfair for us to have to quarantine but we will do it. In Paris we have to wear masks almost everywhere, we already felt trapped there and now we are trapped again.”

Ms Coupe added: “It doesn’t really make sense. The UK was the last to quarantine and now they’re bringing in these hardcore measures.
“And in France too, everyone is wearing a mask, but here, no.”

The group said they had all had negative coronavirus tests in the past week.

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A-level results: Ofqual ‘reviewing’ exam appeals guidance

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Students protested against the downgrading of results outside the Department for Education on Saturday

The exams regulator is reviewing its guidance on how to appeal against A-level and GCSE grades using mock exam results – hours after publishing it.

On Saturday Ofqual set out what constituted a “valid” mock exam for students appealing against A-level results in England.

But the regulator has now suspended that criteria, and further information will be published “in due course”.

Almost 40% of A-level grades were marked down from teachers’ predictions.

Neither A-level nor GCSE students were able to sit public exams this year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Conservative chairman of the education select committee, Robert Halfon, said the decision to review appeals guidance only announced on Saturday created a “huge mess” that left students and schools in confusion.

Ofqual said earlier on Saturday that, where a written mock exam was not taken, it would consider other teacher assessments instead.

However, a statement published late on Saturday night on the regulator’s website read: “Earlier today we published information about mock exam results in appeals.

“This policy is being reviewed by the Ofqual Board and further information will be published in due course.”

BBC political correspondent Jonathan Blake said the Department for Education appeared to be unaware of the change and the review of the criteria was likely to draw further criticism of the government’s handling of the exams process in England.

The criteria under which Ofqual would accept a “valid mock assessment”, set out on Saturday and then suspended hours later, had been stipulated as:

  • Supervised, unseen and undertaken in conditions intended to secure the work as the student’s own
  • Either past assessments produced by the relevant exam board, or assessments developed by teachers
  • Taken under timed conditions
  • Completed before 20 March 2020, when schools and colleges were closed
  • Marked using a mark scheme provided by the relevant exam board
  • Graded in line with the exam board’s examination standard

Before results were released, the Department for Education announced a “triple-lock”, which meant that students’ final results could take into account their teacher’s predicted grade, their mock exam or the option of sitting the actual exam in the autumn.

However, Labour said that, under the new Ofqual criteria, some students would not be able to use their mock results as the basis for an appeal if the assessment did not meet the criteria.

Shadow education secretary Kate Green said: “Gavin Williamson promised to give students a triple lock, but instead he left many devastated by unfair exam results, and now his commitment to give them another chance is rapidly unravelling.

“Having promised that students will be able to use a valid mock result, the reality is that many will not receive these grades even if they represent a student’s best result.

“The latest chaos is the inevitable consequence of this government’s shambolic approach to exams, which saw solutions dreamt up on the back of a cigarette packet and announced barely a day before young people received their results.”

Mr Halfon, the education select committee chairman, said: “Goodness knows what’s going on at Ofqual. It sows confusion among pupils, head teachers and school teachers and it’s the last thing we need at this time.”

He told BBC Breakfast he believed that every student who felt their results were unfair should have the right to appeal against the “Kafkaesque exam grades that no one understands” if their head teacher agreed.

Mr Halfon also suggested that if a “quick, fair and understandable” appeals system cannot be devised and there are similar problems with GCSE results this Thursday, “perhaps the only alternative will be to go back to the existing grade predictions of the teachers”.

‘Not good enough’

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of Schools and College Leaders, said one head teacher had told him he had been “deluged” with emails about the guidance over appeals on Saturday night and then woke up to messages saying: “I give up, does nobody really care about this?”

“It’s simply not good enough,” he told BBC Breakfast. He said universities needed to stop being “insular and self-protective” and to “step up”, offering places to disadvantaged students who had been downgraded.

He also called for Ofqual to re-examine extreme cases, such as students downgraded from a teacher-assessed C to a failing U grade.

“Young people, after two years on a course, should really not be coming out with a fail when they haven’t had the chance to sit the exam,” Mr Barton said.

He said the “really big issue” is what has gone wrong with the statistical model used to determine results and how it might affect GCSEs, where there are larger numbers of disadvantaged students waiting for grades.

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Media captionNina Bunting-Mitcham: “My first thought was, my life is completely over”

The government is facing mounting criticism over its handling of A-level results, with thousands of students left devastated.

One student, rejected by her chosen university after she was downgraded, told schools minister Nick Gibb: “You’ve ruined my life.”

The government announced on Friday that schools would not have to pay to appeal against exam grades.

But the policy was criticised by the Liberal Democrats, with Layla Moran, the party’s education spokeswoman, saying it was “cold comfort” for pupils, adding the move “should never have been needed”.

It follows fears that the costs, which can reach up to £150, could stop schools from taking on harder-to-prove cases.

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