No.10 Signals Imminent U-Turn On Controversial A-Level Grades

"The whole of the government will work hard to come up with the fairest system possible."

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Downing Street has suggested a U-turn on the highly controversial A-level grading system could be imminent amid a fierce backlash over last week’s results.

A No.10 spokesperson refused to rule out changes to the system, which has seen the widespread downgrading of pupils’ results.

It came as Sky News reported that the government is set to make an announcement on Monday afternoon about grades in England.

After coronavirus cancelled exams, pupils’ grades were determined by a statistical model that took into account their teachers’ own assessments but also, crucially, the historic performance of the school.

It was an algorithm that saw 40% of pupils face grade reductions, most severely in schools that had seen historically lower marks, prompting fears that disadvantaged pupils were losing out.

The Scottish government U-turned on a similar marking system a week earlier after students took to the streets, confirming pupils would instead be able to keep their teacher-assessed grades.

England has now seen similar street protests over the algorithm put in place by exams regulator Ofqual, while several senior Tories have broken ranks to demand changes.

Youth protests in front of the Department for Education
Youth protests in front of the Department for Education
NurPhoto via Getty Images

Asked whether Boris Johnson and education secretary Gavin Williamson were now planning a similar approach for England, the No.10 spokesperson told reporters: “We will continue to work hard to come up with the fairest system possible for pupils.”

After it was pointed out that Williamson had previously ruled out such an approach, and asked to rule it out again, the spokesperson said: “Same answer, I’m afraid, we continue to work hard to come up with the fairest system possible.”

Williamson has previously insisted there would be “no U-turn, no change” on the grading system.

Asked whether the PM would also insist on no U-turns, the spokesperson said: “I will have to repeat: the whole of the government will work hard to come up with the fairest system possible.”

Asked whether the government’s position was that the current grades are final, they said: “The government continues to work hard to come up with the fairest system possible.”

The spokesperson also rejected calls from Tory former education secretaryLord Baker of Dorking to delay GCSE results due this Thursday amid the chaos.

“We will not be delaying GCSE results,” they said.

The prime minister is currently on holiday in Scotland for the week, but chaired a conference call with Williamson and senior officials on Monday morning.

A number of senior Tories broke ranks on Monday to demand a U-turn and urging the government to use teachers’ predicted grades as the algorithm’s results disproportionately hit poorer students.

They included paymaster general and Cabinet Office minister Penny Mordaunt, who said she was “seeking a further meeting today” with the Department for Education after speaking with students and parents about exam results.

Amid the controversy, Downing Street said Johnson had confidence in Williamson and Ofqual chief Sally Collier.

In Northern Ireland, education minister Peter Weir has said GCSE students will be awarded the grades predicted by their teachers.

Labour called for English students to be allowed to use teacher-predicted grades.

Shadow education secretary Kate Green said: “The injustice and chaos surrounding A-level and GCSE results must come to an end.

“We gave the government days, not weeks, to end the crisis but they have still failed to take action.

“Enough is enough. The government have failed young people and their families on A-levels and are threatening to do the same with GCSEs.

“The government must now allow young people to use the grades their teachers predicted at both A-level and GCSE.”

The calls were echoed by acting Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey, who tweeted: “The PM must listen to the pleas of parents and students across the country whose futures risk being ruined by a ‘computer says no’ approach to their education. The only solution is to revert to the teacher-assessed grades for both A-levels and GCSEs.”


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