Government revises its public examination gradings

By Tim Le Couilliard, Newgate Public Affairs

It has been announced that A-level and GCSE pupils in England will receive grades based on predictions made by their teachers. After sustained pressure, and following similar announcements made by the devolved governments, Roger Taylor, the Chair of Ofqual, announced today that all grades would be awarded as per teacher predictions, although the details on how this will be managed are yet to be clarified. 

Saying “sorry” and stating that the exams watchdog had taken the “wrong road”, Taylor said that whilst the algorithm had “technical merits”, “it simply hadn’t been an acceptable experience for young people”. About 40% of A-level results were downgraded by the Ofqual algorithm which took into account schools’ previous results. Instead, now there is set to be record grade inflation. Many students and universities have already made alternate arrangements regarding places, with terms beginning only next month. Whilst the decision to revert to teacher assessed grades is seen as perhaps the only option for the government, it is nonetheless a problematic one. 

With students described as guinea pigs of the system, it seems fitting that on this day in 1945, George Orwell’s Animal Farm was first published. It’s now infamous quote of “all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others” resonates with the government’s much maligned algorithm. In a system with intended fair outcomes, it is clear that whilst all were impacted by the algorithm applied to A-levels, some were more impacted than others. The A-level debacle could be seen as an Orwellian-style satire of socialism too: individuals being grouped and achieving according to their group, with the system enforced by a one size fits all, top-down, technocratic ruler in Ofqual. You really couldn’t write it! 

Today saw Boris Johnson state his “full confidence” in the Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, a minister who was famously sacked from Theresa May’s Cabinet after being accused of leaking information on Huawei involvement in British 5G infrastructure; a debate that continues to this day. The debacle over the A-level results is yet another that Williamson will be held responsible for by a number of his Conservative colleagues, with calls for Williamson’s resignation already being aired.

Following similar announcements in Scotland and Northern Ireland, in Wales today it was announced that the Labour led government had U-turned with all A-levels and GCSEs results awarded based on teacher assessments. Sir Keir Starmer has been one of the more vocal critics of the government’s handling of the issue, with more credibility now that his Party’s government in Wales now u-turning too. That being said, his own deputy leader, Angela Rayner, only last year went on record stating that predicted grades were wrong “in the vast majority of cases” and disadvantaged students “lost out on opportunities on the basis of those inaccurate predictions.” She called then for university places to be offered after results had been awarded, which would have been tricky this year. Tweeting today, Rayner directly called for teacher predicted grades, stating anything else would be “injustice.”

Another Animal Farm quote speaks out right now: “Do not imagine, comrades, that leadership is a pleasure! On the contrary, it is a deep and heavy responsibility.” I wonder how many in government would echo that sentiment.