Timeline: How the Government’s exam results U-turn unfolded

The Government was warned in July that pupils could miss out on the exam results they deserve as the system risked being “unfair” for disadvantaged students.

More than a month prior to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson making a U-turn on the way results are awarded, the Commons Education Select Committee said exam regulator Ofqual’s appeal process was not accessible for all students.

Mr Williamson said on Monday that A-level and GCSE results will now be based on teachers’ predicted grades, rather than a controversial algorithm devised by the regulator.

A-Level results
A-Level results

Here is a timeline of events leading up to his announcement:

– Wednesday March 18

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announces that schools and colleges in England will close from March 20 “until further notice” to slow the spread of Covid-19 in the UK.

Schools in Scotland and Wales also closed on March 20, while those in Northern Ireland shut on March 23.

A-level and GCSE exams in England are cancelled, but Mr Johnson says there are plans for students to receive their qualifications.

Coronavirus – Fri Jul 3, 2020
Coronavirus – Fri Jul 3, 2020

– Friday March 20

Mr Williamson announces that students will be given grades based on teacher assessments for each subject, which will then be submitted to the exam boards.

The Department for Education claims this year’s calculated grades will be “indistinguishable from those provided in other years” and will aim to ensure that the distribution of grades follows a similar pattern to previous years, so affected students do not face a “systematic disadvantage”.

– Friday April 3

Ofqual instructs teachers to provide grades for pupils which reflect “fair, objective and carefully considered” judgments of the results they believe each student would have been most likely to achieve.

If the grading judgments in some schools and colleges appear to be more severe or generous than others, exam boards will adjust them, the regulator said.

– Tuesday June 30

Ofqual confirms that students who are unhappy with their teacher-assessed grades will be able to take their exams in the autumn.

A-Level results
A-Level results

– Friday July 10

A report by the Commons Education Select Committee warns that pupils could miss out on the exam results they deserve as the appeal process risks being “unfair” for disadvantaged students, and those without family resources or wider support.

– Tuesday July 21

Qfqual says GCSE and A-level students’ results are likely to be higher than in previous years.

The regulator says that if the teacher-assessment grades had not been adjusted through the standardisation process, this year’s results would have been 12 percentage points better than in 2019 at A-level and nine percentage points at GCSE.

– Tuesday August 4

Some 124,564 exam results for school pupils in Scotland are downgraded by the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) – 26.2% of the total moderated by the body.

Exam results in Scotland
Exam results in Scotland

– Thursday August 6

Ofqual says schools and colleges in England can appeal over their students’ grades if they can prove that historical data used to standardise marks is not a reliable indicator of this year’s results due to a change in circumstances.

– Tuesday August 11

Scotland’s Education Secretary, John Swinney, announces that school exam results downgraded by the controversial moderation process will revert to the grades estimated by pupils’ teachers.

Hours later, on Tuesday evening, Mr Williamson says A-level students in England will be able to use grades from mock exams to appeal against their results.

– Wednesday August 12

Mr Williamson tells the BBC that the exams system deliver will deliver “credible, strong results” for the overwhelming majority of young people, describing it as “fair and “robust”.

A-Level results
A-Level results

– Thursday August 13

Pupils receive their results, with thousands finding their grades have been downgraded by exam boards.

According to Ofqual, 39.1% of pupils’ grades in England were marked down by one grade or more – amounting to some 280,000 entries being adjusted.

Education unions – including the National Union of Students – call on the Government to follow Scotland’s lead and scrap moderated exam grades and to use teachers’ original predicted grades instead.

– Saturday August 15

A-Level results
A-Level results

Mr Williamson tells the Times there will be “no U-turn” on the grading system, claiming that moving to the Scottish model would lead to “rampant grade inflation”.

Ofqual suspends its criteria for students hoping to challenge their A-level grades on the basis of their results in mock exams.

The regulator says the policy is “being reviewed” by its board and that further information will be released “in due course”.

– Sunday August 16

Hundreds of A-level students protest against the results in central London, while education unions criticise the Government for its handling of the issue.

– Monday August 17

The Government is forced to make a U-turn over the way A-level and GCSE exam results are awarded in England following mounting pressure against Mr Williamson and Mr Johnson.

Mr Williamson apologies for the way the process was handled and says it was only at the weekend that it became “apparent” to him that more action would need to be taken.