Labour calls for ‘urgent reassurance’ over assessments in lieu of exam results

Labour has written to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson calling for “urgent reassurance” that exam results in England “will not exacerbate existing inequalities”.

In a letter to Mr Williamson, shadow education secretary Kate Green warned this year’s system of assessment following the Covid-19 pandemic “risks creating winners and losers and some children in schools that have been improving are those who could lose out the most”.

Ms Green, MP for Stretford and Urmston, cautioned “the system risks baking in inequality” as she branded the handling of Highers results in Scotland “disastrous”.

Shadow education secretary Kate Green
Shadow education secretary Kate Green

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has defended the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) over a moderation process that reduced the pass rate of the poorest Higher pupils by more than twice that of the richest.

Setting out a series of concerns, Ms Green said: “All students deserve to receive grades on their own merit and not a computer algorithm. It is therefore vital that students, teachers and parents understand the way in which results will primarily be determined, and how a balance is to be achieved between performance at centre level and consideration of students’ individual performance.

“If the eventual results are determined primarily at centre level, there is a significant danger that inequality will be baked into the system, as students will be judged on their schools’ prior attainment and not on individual merit.”

Ms Green argued there remained “serious concerns” about the appeals process as she asked what support would be given for a “fair and accessible” process of appeals.

The letter argued: “Nicola Sturgeon has failed a generation of young Scots by ensuring that the inequality and attainment gap has been further entrenched through her failure to act on the injustice of the moderation system. We cannot allow that to happen here in England next week.”

Ms Green asked whether providers of post-16 and post-18 education should “be flexible” when making offers.

In a statement, Ms Green said: “Yesterday’s disastrous handling of Highers results in Scotland shows what can go wrong when computer algorithms drive students’ grades, and politicians wash their hands of responsibility.

“With A-level results just over a week away, and GCSE results due the week after, it’s imperative the Government acts now to reassure worried students, teachers and parents.

“Young people deserve to have their hard work assessed on merit, but the system risks baking in inequality and doing most harm to students from disadvantaged backgrounds, those from ethnic minority groups and those with special educational needs and disabilities.

“Ministers must urgently set out how they’ll ensure the results next week will not exacerbate existing inequalities, and what extra support they’ll give to students who feel they’ve been unfairly graded to navigate the appeals process.”