Friday, 25 Sep 2020

'Our Government failed us': Disappointed A-level students protest outside No 10

Disillusioned A-level students have demonstrated outside Number 10 for a second day after thousands of results were downgraded by an algorithm.

Young people gathered outside Downing Street holding signs saying ‘How can I value a system that doesn’t value me?’, ‘Trust our teachers’ and ‘Justice for state schools’.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has faced calls to resign after youngsters all over the country missed out on their top university choices, having never had a chance to take their exams.

As tests were cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, grades were awarded instead using a statistical model based partly on previous results of schools and college and a student ranking system – fuelling concerns that the disadvantaged would be hit the hardest.

These fears turned out to be founded, as 85% of the most deprived students were expected to achieve a grade C or above – but after being put through regulator Ofqual’s algorithm, only 74.6% achieved this.

As students collected their results on Thursday, 8.3% of the most well off students were given lower grades than predicted compared to 9.5% in the middle category.

Ofqual says its model took into account the fact that poorer students tended to be awarded lower grades than predicted, but many critics say doing so arbitrarily without them actually sitting an exam is setting them up to fail.

Figures show 39.1% of the 700,000 assessments submitted by teachers in England were lowered by one more more grades, compared to 2.2% which were upgraded. A total of 3.5% were dropped by two grades or more while just 0.06% were raised by two or more.

Protest organiser Ophelia Gregory, 18, from Ashford, Kent, says students have been ‘completely scammed’ and is calling on the Government to follow Scotland’s lead and undo the moderation of results.

Although she just about scraped into her place at Cambridge University to read classics, her results were dropped a few grades despite working tirelessly at Simon Langton Grammar School for Boys in Canterbury.

While the Education Secretary said last night that the Government would cover the costs of appeals against exam results, Ophelia says this will be too slow for thousands of young people feeling uncertain about their futures.

She told the Independent: ‘We want the government to use the centre assessed grades. Not only do we want that, we want them to do it quickly.

‘There’s no reason why they can’t click their fingers tomorrow and say, ‘schools should email all the centre assessed grades to universities, and they should accept those.

‘The appeals process could take weeks and weeks and weeks, to the point where people have already missed their places. The deadline for Oxbridge, as it is for most universities, is 31 August because they’ve got to get their courses ready and know who is going.’

Not only has the Education Secretary come under fire from Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, the Government also faced a rebellion of backbench Tory MPs including ex cabinet minister David Davis.

He told Sky News: ‘This is a government which has quite properly in my view based a lot of its appeal on social mobility. You keep hearing people talk about the Red Wall seats, the industrial seats in the north of England.

‘They are going to be the ones who because of the disparity of the system are going to be most penalised, are going to feel let down and feel more let down because the promise to level up is plainly being failed upon in this particular decision.’

The Department for Education said it has introduced a ‘triple lock system’ meaning students can use their mock results to apply for jobs and university places if they were unhappy with their grades.

It also said schools and colleges can appeal if they believe their historic data does not reflect the ability of their current classes – due to changes in leadership or a number of exceptional students.

The Association of School and College Leaders accused the Government of a ‘panicked and chaotic response’ and said the current moderated system was needed for fairness.

General Secretary Geoff Barton said: ‘The idea of introducing at the eleventh hour a system in which mock exam results trump calculated grades beggars belief.

‘The government doesn’t appear to understand how mock exams work. They aren’t a set of exams which all conform to the same standards.’

‘Schools and colleges have spent months diligently following detailed guidance to produce centre-assessed grades only to find they might as well not have bothered.’

ASCL headteachers’ union chief Geoff Barton, who said: ‘The government doesn’t appear to understand how mock exams work.

‘They aren’t a set of exams which all conform to the same standards. The clue is in the name “mock”.’

The Royal Statistical Society has written to the Office of Statistics Regulation to ask for a review into whether ‘the models and processes adopted by the qualification regulators did in fact achieve quality and trustworthiness’.

Universities are expected to be more accepting of students this year, with admissions service UCAS stating that they are likely to be ‘super flexible’ towards those who missed their grades.

Oxford University’s Worcester College has become one of the first institutions in the UK to say it will honour all offers made to UK students, regardless of what grades they were given in their A-Levels.

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