Government has ‘full confidence’ in exams regulator after A-level grades chaos


The Government has given its backing to England’s exams regulator Ofqual amid the A-level and GCSE grades controversy.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson had suggested that Ofqual “didn’t deliver” the system that the Government had been “reassured” would be in place following the U-turn on grades.

During a series of interviews, the minister had not categorically confirmed whether he retained confidence in the watchdog.

But on Wednesday – with less than 24 hours to go until students receive their GCSE grades – the Department for Education said it had “full confidence” in the regulator and its leadership following the controversy.

The Education Secretary is under intense pressure after he was forced to abandon the algorithm-based system for awarding A-level and GCSE grades in England in the middle of exam results season.

The Government’s U-turn on Monday came too late for many students who already made choices about universities based on the grades they were initially awarded, rather than the new system of using teachers’ assessments.

The Department for Education said: “As the Government has made clear, we have full confidence in Ofqual and its leadership in their role as independent regulator and we continue to work closely with Ofqual to deliver fair results for our young people at this unprecedented time.”

It added: “The decision they took to move from moderated grades to centre assessed grades was one that we agreed with.

“Our focus remains on working with Ofqual to ensure students receive their final GCSE, AS level and A-level results this week so that they can move on to the next stage of their lives.”

Speaking to LBC on Tuesday morning, Mr Williamson said: “We ended up in a situation where Ofqual didn’t deliver the system that we had been reassured and believed that would be in place.”

Asked if he had confidence in the regulator, he said: “It is quite clear that there have been some real challenges in terms of what Ofqual have been able to deliver.”

Meanwhile, the joint general secretaries of the National Education Union (NEU) have written to Mr Williamson to demand significant changes to exams in 2021 to ensure the process which “failed” A-level students never happens again.

Dr Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney said the controversy around last week’s A-level results “must never happen again” and urged the minister to prepare for new spikes in coronavirus that could lead to “further loss of schooling”.

In the letter to Mr Williamson, they said: “It is clear to the National Education Union that Government needs to make much bigger changes to next year’s exams in order to build confidence that the grades awarded, upon which young people’s life chances are determined, properly recognise and reward their achievements.

“You should be working, now, to examine different possible scenarios and to develop contingency plans in case of further school and college closures.”

The NEU leaders said the Government should reduce the amount of content assessed in next year’s exams and should commission an independent review into the assessment methods for GCSEs and A-levels.