A Tory backlash over the A-levels crisis has heaped further pressure on Boris Johnson and Gavin Williamson to perform a U-turn.
As pupils and teachers continued to protest about the results awarded following the cancellation of exams, senior Conservatives called for the Government to resolve the “shambles”.
A serving minister called for students to be allowed to sit exams free of charge in the autumn if they were unhappy with the grades awarded by the controversial algorithm, while former party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith suggested the formula should be abandoned altogether.
Mr Johnson is expected to go on holiday to Scotland this week, but Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer called on him to take “personal responsibility” in dealing with the situation.
Conservative former education secretary Lord Baker of Dorking urged ministers to delay the publication of GCSE results, due on Thursday, until the problems with A-levels have been resolved.
In Northern Ireland, Education Minister Peter Weir has said GCSE students will be awarded the grades predicted by their teachers.
Fears about a repeat of the chaos heightened pressure on Mr Johnson and Education Secretary Mr Williamson from within the Tory ranks.
Paymaster General Penny Mordaunt said she was seeking a meeting with colleagues at the Department for Education (DfE) about the issue and had made clear that if students wanted to sit the exams in the autumn there should be no fee.
“This group of young people have lost out on so much already; we must ensure that bright, capable students can progress on their next step,” she said.
The minister added that she had also “made my views on GCSE results known to DfE”.
Education Select Committee chairman Robert Halfon, writing in the Daily Telegraph, said: “Unless the Government and Ofqual can sort out the appeal system so that it can be done properly and fairly, there will be sadly no option but just to adopt the Scottish position in allowing teachers’ predicted grades to stand.”
Sir Iain said a combination of teacher assessments and mocks should be used for grades instead of the algorithm devised by regulator Ofqual.
“No algorithm is going to sort our problem out,” he told LBC Radio.
Former minister Tracey Crouch also said teacher-assessed grades should be used: “Some think that this would lead to over-inflation – and yes it might – but having spoken to a school head this morning I am confident that most schools have quality checking processes that would mean very few would be inflated and if they were, given the world we are currently in, so what?”
Ex-minister Stephen Hammond said the process had turned into a “shambles” after Ofqual published its guidance on appeals over the weekend, only to withdraw the document hours later.
“This is not the actions of a body that seems to know what it is doing,” he told Sky News.
I had taken a break from Facebook but really wanted to come back on to write a post about A Levels.First of all I…
The DfE said it is continuing to work with Ofqual to build as much “fairness into the appeals process as possible” to help what it described as the “most difficult cases”.
“Ofqual continues to consider how to best deliver the appeals process to give schools and pupils the clarity they need,” a DfE spokesman said in a statement issued late on Sunday.
No explanation was given for the withdrawal of the Ofqual guidance, although Labour said it undermined assurances given to pupils by the Education Secretary about the appeals process.
Mr Williamson last week gave a “triple-lock” commitment that pupils could use the highest result out of their teacher’s predicted grade, their mock exam, or sitting an actual exam in the autumn.
But the Ofqual guidance said if the mock result was higher than the teacher’s prediction, it was the teacher’s prediction that would count.
In a further setback for the Education Secretary, the Daily Telegraph reported that some members of the Ofqual board now wanted to ditch the algorithm.
Mr Williamson has consistently argued that moderation is essential to prevent “rampant grade inflation” and insists there can be no U-turn.
However, critics have complained that the algorithm penalises bright pupils in schools in more disadvantaged areas, while benefiting those in private schools.
The Sixth Form Colleges Association analysed 65,000 exam entries in 41 A-level subjects and found that the grades awarded to students this year were lower in all of them than they were for the average of the previous three years.
On average, almost a fifth of students (19%) in sixth form colleges have been left with lower grades than they would have received if they had sat their exams in previous years, the research found.
The association’s chief executive, Bill Watkin, said Ofqual should “recalibrate” the algorithm and run it again, providing students with a guarantee that they would not receive a lower grade – or scrap it and use the teachers’ predictions.
The Government could even face a legal challenge, with Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham instructing lawyers.
“I will be taking legal advice this morning and have instructed leading counsel,” he said. “I expect to be writing to Ofqual later today to initiate action.”
Am sure @halfon4harlowMP and @CommonsEd will lead on inquiry into A Level debacle, but this has exclusively impacted young people and of course age is a protected characteristic. As Chair of @Commonswomequ am keen to support.
— Caroline Nokes MP (@carolinenokes) August 17, 2020
Tory MP Caroline Nokes, who chairs the Commons Women and Equalities Committee, said the row is affecting young people and pointed out that age is a protected characteristic in anti-discrimination law.
“This has exclusively impacted young people and of course age is a protected characteristic,” she said.