Headteachers’ union calls for independent review after exams U-turn

An urgent independent review of the exams grading fiasco is needed, the headteachers’ union has said.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), has written to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson demanding a review to rebuild trust because “public confidence has been badly shaken”.

The Government announced a U-turn on Monday when it said students could receive grades based on teachers’ estimates following anger over the downgrading of thousands of A-level results.

Mr Williamson has apologised to pupils but has repeatedly refused to say whether he will consider resigning.

Mr Barton has called for greater transparency from the Department for Education and Ofqual.

He said: “It seems to be clear that the statistical model for moderating centre-assessed grades was flawed and that it produced many anomalous results.

“But how did this happen, why were the problems not foreseen, and why were ministers not on top of this? Most importantly, what lessons can we learn for the future?”

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It comes as GCSE students have been told they will receive their results on Thursday despite the Government’s U-turn on grading.

All schools and colleges will receive pupils’ GCSE grades from exam boards ahead of results day, the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) said.

Exam boards said they have been “working hard” to provide centre assessment grades, based on teachers’ estimates, or moderated grades if they are higher.

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Meanwhile, the Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR) and the Commons Education Select Committee have launched reviews into what went wrong with this year’s exam results.

The OSR said its review will consider to what extent qualifications regulators developed their models in line with principles set out in the code of practice for statistics.

It will not review the implications of the model on individual results or take any view on the most appropriate way to award grades in the absence of exams, the OSR added.

Robert Halfon, chairman of the education committee, said the situation was an “absolute disgrace” and his panel will launch an inquiry after the parliamentary summer recess.

Speaking to Times Radio, he said: “We need to also ask very deep questions as well as to whether Ofqual is fit for purpose in its current role, or whether it needs to be completely integrated into the department so you know for sure who is behind the decision making.”

Robert Halfon
Robert Halfon

Mr Williamson insisted that England’s exams regulator, Ofqual, “didn’t deliver” the grading system the Government had been “reassured” would be in place.

A small number of results for students who took vocational and technical qualifications will be reviewed following the Government’s U-turn on grading.

Btec students’ grades were not included in the announcement, but Mr Williamson said his department was working with awarding body Pearson to extend the change to the vocational qualifications.

Pearson has said grades that were adjusted downwards through the awarding process – only around 0.5% of teachers’ grades – will be reviewed on a “case-by-case basis” with colleges.

Labour’s shadow universities minister Emma Hardy said Mr Williamson’s delay in allowing pupils to be given grades estimated by teachers has caused a “massive headache” for universities.

Many have called for urgent support from the Government to ensure A-level students do not miss out on their first-choice places.

Emma Hardy
Emma Hardy

Students who now have higher grades after the U-turn – which came four days after results were announced – could still be asked to defer their place if there is no space left on their preferred course.

Ms Hardy told BBC Breakfast: “His delay in making this decision has meant that more and more places at university have been filled up.

“Many students have gone ahead and accepted their second-place offers or other offers, or in fact got offers that maybe in the past they wouldn’t have actually been entitled to.”

The algorithm was meant to moderate the process of awarding grades, preventing teachers awarding what the exams watchdog described as “implausibly high” marks.

But it came under fire over the way it particularly appeared to penalise bright children from disadvantaged schools.

Mr Williamson accepted it had produced more “significant inconsistencies” than could be rectified through an appeals process, saying it became “apparent” to him that more action would be needed after Ofqual released additional data about its algorithm.

Mr Johnson, who is on holiday in Scotland, held crisis talks with Mr Williamson and senior officials on Monday morning to discuss the policy shift.

Students who were awarded a higher grade by the moderation process will be allowed to keep it, but for many pupils the shift to teachers’ predictions will see their grades improve.