Outcry over UK exam results during pandemic

The British government has come under increasing pressure over its handling of school leaving exams and computers used to finalise grades due to coronavirus.

Photo: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

Photo: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

Calls for Education Minister Gavin Williamson to resign have become increasingly loud after the software-generated adjustments to the results predicted by teachers appeared to give disadvantaged students worse grades.

As the coronavirus pandemic meant that neither the A-Levels taken by 18-year-olds at the end of their schooling nor GCSE exams usually taken at 16 could be taken physically, the Ministry for Education decided to use a computer programme to finalise the grades.

The aim was to adjust the generally positive assessments by teachers to an average level based on the actual results of previous years. This was done using an algorithm in which some of the students came off up to three grades below what their teachers had recommended.

In addition to the individual assessment of student performance, the basis for the results was also the average of the exams at the school in question from previous years.

There was an outcry from students who felt they were disadvantaged and sometimes saw their dreams of a university place disappear when the A-Level results came out on Thursday.

An appeals mechanism hastily brought into play by Williamson was partially withdrawn by the responsible authority at the weekend.

Initially, it was said that students could use a complaints procedure to ensure that the best assessment was counted, either from a mock exam or from the teacher assessment.

Alternatively, it was to be made possible for pupils to sit the exam in the autumn, which would be too late to make the start of the university term. But then the authorities rowed back.

“The Tories’ results fiasco is turning from tragedy to farce,” the education policy spokeswoman for the opposition Labour Party, Kate Green, said on Sunday, stressing that Prime Minister Boris Johnson must make the matter a top priority. Teachers’ associations were also critical.

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Williamson had defended the computerised procedure as necessary to prevent the inflation of top grades by teachers.

However, the pressure is growing as the GCSE results are due to be published next Thursday.

The regional government in Scotland had previously been forced into a U-turn over the same procedure. In the end the Scottish government decided the teachers’ assessments would stand.


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