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U-turn on A-Level gradings announced by government, after Ofqual algorithm lost students university places


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A-Level and GCSE students across Kent will now receive teacher-assessed grades, the government has announced.

The U-turn followed mounting pressure, after pupils across the county missed out on university places after their exam results were significantly downgraded.

Pupils march through Canterbury city centre on Sunday in protest over the grading of this year's A-levels. Picture: Jo Court
Pupils march through Canterbury city centre on Sunday in protest over the grading of this year's A-levels. Picture: Jo Court

The government faced heavy criticism after its use of an algorithm to determine A-level results, replacing traditional examinations in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

The examining board Ofqual was brought in to "standardise" grades.

Reacting to the news, student Ophelia Gregory, who organised a protest in London at the weekend, said: "I think it's great they've finally seen the light.

"It's such a shame as so many people have already missed out on their university places for this year, but this is the best thing they could have done at this stage.

"It's still shambolic. Gavin Williamson couldn't come on the TV to announce it himself, and that was very cowardly. I'm hoping he's going to resign or be sacked this evening after this whole debacle."

Grammar school pupil Ophelia Gregory who organised a protest in London. Picture: Jo Court
Grammar school pupil Ophelia Gregory who organised a protest in London. Picture: Jo Court

Ophelia, from Ashford, who went to Simon Langton Grammar School for Boys, said the timing of the decision meant some students would still be forced to take a gap year.

She added: "If they'd made the announcement the day after the results were released, then a lot of kids still could have gone to university this year. It's not ideal to take a gap year, but hopefully everyone will be able to go to uni whether it's this October or next year. There's great relief across all my friends."

Graham Jones, senior director and education law expert from Whitehead Monckton solicitors in Maidstone, said: "I think it possibly has to be the safer option - what you’re doing is removing a blunt mathematical calculation with all then potential penalties that could have for individuals or improving schools, and replacing it by evidence from teachers and schools that know the pupils concerned.

"If teachers are putting correct information on a student’s performance, assessment, mock grades, that has to be a fair way of getting us through this mess, rather than a blunt instrument which is what the government have been doing up until now."

Pupils across the county were dismayed on Thursday upon receiving their grades and finding out they had been significantly downgraded from their teacher-assessed predicted marks.

GCSE and A Level students will receive grades based on their teacher's original predictions. Stock image
GCSE and A Level students will receive grades based on their teacher's original predictions. Stock image

But Mr Jones believes universities will return to those they have turned down and re-offer them a place, if their predicted grades meet their entry requirements.

He said: "I think because the universities need their students, they will find a way to get notification out if offers are being made on the same basis as before.

"It'll cause problems with clearing and problems for universities, but with 40% being downgraded at A-Level, I'd imagine there are a lot of spaces at universities, and I think it's going to be fairly churlish of a university not to go back and re-offer."

He added: "You have a situation where universities are businesses and they need students to make their money.

"And if they're not going to be full, I think universities are going to be accommodating as possible."

Tracey Crouch posted on Facebook that continuing confusion could affect GCSE students too
Tracey Crouch posted on Facebook that continuing confusion could affect GCSE students too

One Medway MP has already warned of potential 'chaos' for universities following the policy switch.

Chatham and Aylesford MP Tracey Crouch took to Facebook this morning to express her views on a potential change, and also said the situation needed to be resolved quickly so as to not affected the upcoming GCSE results on Thursday.

She wrote: "Reverting to teachers grades isn't going to solve the crisis - in fact it may well send university admissions into chaos - but it allows A-Level students to get the grades their teachers think they deserve and we can move on and focus on Thursday - GCSE results day.

"Far more students will be affected by this if it continues into GCSEs and could have an even more devastating impact on college places."

The government's U-turn follows last week's announcement from Scotland’s Education Secretary John Swinney, who revealed thousands of students would have their exam results upgraded following public anger at low grades.

The decision could cause 'chaos' for university admissions, according to the Chatham and Aylesford MP
The decision could cause 'chaos' for university admissions, according to the Chatham and Aylesford MP

The decision was also made to use predicted grades from teachers in Northern Ireland and Wales.

The chairman of the Kent Association of Headteachers is frustrated the decision by the UK government took so long, leaving the futures of many students hanging in the balance.

Alan Brookes, who is also executive head teacher at Fulston Manor in Sittingbourne, said: "Clearly there is some relief that common sense has prevailed, but at the same time there is a still huge sense of frustration and anger at the fact that this could have been sorted out weeks ago

"The young people have gone through all the stress and strain of the last few days, and a lot who are going to struggle still to get the university places of their choice because they've been filled in the last four or five days."

He added: "There's lots of damage and fallout from this - yes we got to the right decision, but we got to it in a very serpentine way."

Kent Association of Headteachers chairman Alan Brookes
Kent Association of Headteachers chairman Alan Brookes

Education secretary Gavin Williamson apologised for the stress caused by the exams fiasco following the announcement that the algorithm-based results would be overturned by teacher-assessed grades.

Mr Williamson said in a statement: "This has been an extraordinarily difficult year for young people who were unable to take their exams.

"We worked with Ofqual to construct the fairest possible model, but it is clear that the process of allocating grades has resulted in more significant inconsistencies than can be resolved through an appeals process."

"We now believe it is better to offer young people and parents certainty by moving to teacher assessed grades for both A and AS level and GCSE results."

The education secretary added:"I am sorry for the distress this has caused young people and their parents but hope this announcement will now provide the certainty and reassurance they deserve."

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson

One student was left dismayed after losing her place at Cambridge University as a result of being downgraded by the system.

Isabel Burns, from Homewood School in Tenterden, was predicted three A*s, but was downgraded to ABB.

Speaking to KentOnline this morning, she said: "I'm honestly feeling very stressed, but also I was absolutely adamant from the day I updated UCAS, that I'm not going to let this stand.

"We can't roll over and let this happen, both for the sakes of our futures but also for the basic principle of education - that you raise yourself up through education.

"It feels like we've completely abandoned by the bureaucracy of the education system, and just completely ignores all the hard work of our teachers as well."

Protest organiser India Benjamin-Brown from Simon Langton Boys' Grammar. Picture: Jo Court
Protest organiser India Benjamin-Brown from Simon Langton Boys' Grammar. Picture: Jo Court

Isabel's frustration was shared by hundreds of students across Kent, many of whom marched through the streets of Canterbury in protest over how their exams had been graded.

of Simon Langton Grammar School for Boys in Canterbury.

One A-Level student's dream of going to medical school to train to become a doctor were shattered after she was downgraded under the government's new marking system.

Chloe was predicted top marks by UCAS and her teachers at Rainham School for Girls in biology, chemistry and psychology.

But through Ofqual's standardisation system she was awarded three Bs, jeopardising her spot at Anglia Ruskin University in Chelmsford.

News from our universities, local primary and secondary schools including Ofsted inspections and league tables can be found here.

Read more: All the latest news from Kent

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