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Schools minister Nick Gibb has defended the algorithm which downgraded pupils’ exam results as a “good model”, but admitted it “certainly was foreseen” that privately-educated children could benefit.
Speaking after the major U-turn which saw government revert to using teacher-assessed grades for A-Levels and GCSEs, Gibb said the aim of using computer modelling was to “standardise” and “make sure that there was a level playing field”.
But the exams regulator and Department for Education found themselves at the centre of fury after star pupils when the algorithm downgraded almost 40% of pupils, with poorer students, who are usually taught in larger class sizes, hit harder.
Gibb and education secretary Gavin Williamson are under fresh pressure as results of BTec qualifications were delayed the day before they were due to be published.
While he insisted BTec students would be upgraded rather than penalised, Gibb defended the algorithm.
Amid reports that government was warned it may punish disadvantaged children, Gibb said it was how the modelling was applied which was at fault.
He said: “The model was a good model, and we continued to refine it.”
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, the education minister added: “The application of the model is a regulatory approach and it’s the development of that that emerged on the Thursday when the algorithm was published.
“And at that stage it became clear that there were some results that were being published on Thursday and Friday that were just not right and they were not what the model had intended.
“It was not intended that a young person who had worked diligently for two years on their A-levels and was expecting an A and two Bs or three As, and turned up at school to collect their grades and they were three Ds.”
Gibb went on to say it “certainly was foreseen” that private school pupils could benefit from the use of the algorithm.
He said: “That certainly was foreseen because we knew that small cohorts had to rely more on the teacher-assessed grade than on the standardisation process, but that applied to the state sector as much as to the independent sector.”
He also admitted that he was warned about concerns that the algorithm used to determine grades could impact poorer pupils.
Asked about reports in The Times which suggested Sir Jon Coles, a former director-general at the Department for Education, wrote to Williamson early last month to express concerns about the algorithm used by Ofqual, Gibb said: “He (Sir John) spoke to me about it and he was concerned about the model and he was concerned that it would disadvantage particularly children from poorer backgrounds.
“And so I called a meeting therefore with the independent regulator, with Ofqual, to discuss in detail those very concerns.”
Meanwhile, Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross refused to give his backing to Williamson.
Ross, who called for Scottish education secretary John Swinney to resign after similar problems with computer modelled results in Scotland, said Williamson should “reflect” on his position.
“I think Gavin Williamson and the government and the Department for Education will be reflecting on why did they not see the problem that the SNP had to deal with as a result of their actions in Scotland,” he told BBC Radio Scotland.
Asked whether Williamson should quit, Ross said: “That is a decision for Gavin Williamson. It’s a decision for the prime minister, if he continues to have the trust of the prime minister.
“I’m not here to say in your report that I think Gavin Williamson has done a great job and he should continue.
“I think he has to reflect on what happened to so many pupils in England, students who were concerned for four days, because we had the exact same up here in Scotland for a week.”
Labour, meanwhile, has called for the government to publish all correspondence it had with Ofqual over the algorithm.