NEWS
11/08/2020 18:15 BST | Updated 12/08/2020 19:15 BST

UK Urged To Scrap Moderated A-Level Grades After Scottish U-Turn

National Union of Students calls on education secretary Gavin Williamson to take “decisive action” ahead of Thursday's results being published.

Student leaders have urged the UK government to scrap moderated A-level grades in England after Scotland’s embarrassing U-turn.

The National Union of Students (NUS) has called for UK education secretary Gavin Williamson to take “decisive action” after Nicola Sturgeon announced 124,564 computer-generated results north of the border would be binned and replaced by teacher assessments.

Students will find out whether they have met the requirements for higher education in the rest of the UK on Thursday.

Scotland’s education secretary John Swinney announced on Tuesday that exam results downgraded by a controversial moderation process would revert to the grades that had been assigned by students’ own teachers.

He also confirmed marks that had been moderated upwards would not change.

There had been outrage that students from poorer backgrounds in Scotland were hit hardest by downgrading.

Exam boards in England, Wales and Northern Ireland have moderated the grades submitted by schools and colleges to ensure this year’s results are not significantly higher than previous years.

Larissa Kennedy, president of the NUS, said: “The Scottish government have taken decisive action to respond to this situation, which must now be reflected across the UK.

“Students have worked incredibly hard throughout their education, and their efforts should be recognised. Now should be a time to celebrate their achievements rather than place a limit on their potential.”

She added: “In these unprecedented circumstances the UK government should follow the lead of Scotland by scrapping moderated grades. This temporary measure must be taken to avoid a situation in which thousands of students do not receive the grades they deserve because of where they live.” 

Meanwhile, academics have warned that getting predictions right is a “near-impossible task” and have urged decision makers to back an admissions system based solely upon actual grades in future.

A paper from the UCL Institute of Education says university applications should be delayed until students have received their A-level results to help remove potential inequalities.

Researchers said they could only predict a quarter of pupils’ best three A-levels correctly – even after removing any opportunity for bias.

High-achieving students in non-selective state schools are also more likely to be under-predicted at A-level compared to their grammar and private school peers, the study suggests.

Academics – from UCL Centre for Education Policy and Equalising Opportunities and Oxford Brookes Business School – studied data from 238,898 pupils’ GCSE performance to see whether they could accurately predict their subsequent A-level results.

Among high achievers, the researchers found 23% of comprehensive school pupils were under-predicted by two or more grades compared to just 11% of grammar and private school pupils.

Co-author professor Lindsey Macmillan said: “This research raises the question of why we use predicted grades at such a crucial part of our education system.

“This isn’t teachers’ fault – it’s a near-impossible task. Most worryingly there are implications for equity, as pupils in comprehensives are harder to predict.”