UK Govt in naughty corner over algorithm exam marking fail

The British government has bowed to public pressure over its school exam marking system, ditching an algorithm that downgraded the results awarded to students in England after their tests were cancelled due to COVID-19.

Aug 18, 2020, updated Aug 18, 2020
Photo: Victoria Jones/PA Wire

Photo: Victoria Jones/PA Wire

The government had faced days of criticism after the mathematical model used to assess grade predictions made by teachers lowered those marks for almost 40 per cent of students taking their main school-leaving exams.

Students will now be awarded the grade that their teachers had predicted for them based on past performance, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government said on Monday.

“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 said.

He promised last week there would be no U-turn.

A snap opinion poll by YouGov showed 75 per cent of respondents thought the government had handled the situation badly and 40 per cent thought Williamson should resign.

Some students have been protesting against the initial results.

Asked if he would resign, Williamson said: “I think what those youngsters wanted to see was action being taken.”

The chaotic handling of the grades has been felt as far afield as Egypt and Pakistan as some schools there rely on British assessments to secure internationally recognised qualifications.

The algorithm will also be dropped for results for separate exams taken mostly by 15- and 16-year-old students.

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The dispute has damaged Johnson’s core message to voters – that he wanted to get rid of barriers to achievement and help those from poorer backgrounds and areas fulfil their potential.

Some students missed out on university places after they were downgraded several levels by the regulator’s initial model.

“These were problems that were staring the government in the face for months and the government has been slow and incompetent,” opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer said.

Williamson said he was lifting a cap on the number of students that universities can accept but it is unclear how universities will handle the unprecedented revision of grades.

The Russell Group of leading British universities said it needed urgent clarification on additional government support.

Analysis of the algorithm showed it had resulted in “manifest injustice” of favouring students in fee-paying private schools, said Paul Johnson, director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies think-tank, writing for the Times.


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