Ministers face mounting pressure over A-level results debacle

Source: City of Stoke on Trent Sixth Form College, via. Flickr.
Government ministers are facing mounting pressure from students, parents, teachers following A-level results day.

By Morgan Perry | Political Editor

Government ministers across the UK are facing mounting pressure from students, parents, teachers and even their own MPs following A-level results day.

A-level results released on Thursday, August 13, have forced many schools to rush to appeal the grades issued to students, many of whom have been locked out of their preferred university places.

As many as 40% of grades in England were adjusted by the qualifications regulator, Ofqual. 

A similar system was in place in Scotland, forcing Scottish Education Secretary John Swinney to make a dramatic U-turn earlier this week

Ahead of results day, teachers were asked to submit the grades they felt students were likely to achieve if they had sat the exam. These were analysed in line with the results of previous years’ students, and final grades issued using a ranked league table. 

Results disparity

Overall, the number of students issued the highest grades, A and A*, was at an all-time high.

However, there is a disparity about how they were issued; grades for students from private schools were up by 4.5% on last year, whilst students at Sixth Form colleges saw an increase of just 0.3%.

Data released by Ofqual shows that those at some of the most deprived Sixth Form colleges in the country had fared particularly badly, and were more likely to have had teacher-assessed grades downgraded than the wealthiest. 

Ofqual claims that teachers at more deprived schools were more likely to have submitted higher grades, but it is now facing pressure from across the country to ensure that grades have been issued fairly and are reflective of students’ ability. 

“Time is running out”

For a government that in its election campaign placed such emphasis on “levelling up” the poorest areas of the country, this is yet another blow for Boris Johnson. 

As a result, MPs in so-called “red wall” seats – those primarily in the north that were taken from Labour – are, perhaps unsurprisingly, concerned.

In response to this week’s A-level results, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer called for a review into the system used to moderate grades ahead of the release of GCSE results next Thursday, August 20. 

“No young person should be at a detriment due to government incompetence. Time is running out. We need action in days, not weeks,” he said.

Appeals and autumn resits

In an attempt to ensure the process remains fair for all, Ofqual has widened its appeals system for students in England. 

At the eleventh hour, on Wednesday night, the Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson promised that no student would be issued a grade lower than that achieved in their mock exams.

However, a number of caveats and the last-minute changes have left many schools and colleges confused, and students in the dark; the government has not yet announced what constitutes a “valid mock” result. 

Welsh Education Minister, Kirsty Williams (Source: Liberal Democrats, via. Flickr).

In Wales, similar announcements were made by Education Minister Kirsty Williams. She declared that no student would be awarded a grade lower than that achieved in their AS-level exams. 

Unlike in England, students in Wales still take AS-level exams, which account for 40% of the final A-level grade.

But, despite the announcement, Williams is also facing pressure from schools and colleges after many students found the grades issued by their teachers had been downgraded. 

Like Ofqual, Qualifications Wales also claimed that results issued by teachers had been “generous” and that alterations were necessary as a result. 

On Friday afternoon, the Senedd Children, Young People and Education Committee was recalled from recess to discuss the results after it was reported that 42% of grades in Wales were downgraded.

It’s likely that they’ll want to review what measures are in place ahead of the release of GCSE results next week. 

Students have also been welcomed to apply to re-sit their missed exams in the autumn. 

Although the government has promised that there should be no additional costs, some students have been told by their school that they face bills of up to £125.00 per exam to resist. There are concerns that this will affect the poorest students – who were more likely to have their grades downgraded – particularly hard. 

There is also the unanswered question of how those heading to university in September will be able to resist. 

More disappointment to come?

With GCSE results day around the corner, there are concerns that students may again be adversely affected by the government’s algorithmic approach to calculating grades this year. 

Data released by Ofqual already shows that results are even more likely to be inaccurate than those grades issued to A-level students this week. 

Teachers, students and parents are being given plenty of cause to be concerned. 

Follow @gairrhyddpol for all of the latest updates from the world of politics.

Politics Morgan Perry

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