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Monday, 17 August 2020 17:17

The A Level and GCSE Assessment Fiascos, Summer 2020

Update evening of 20th August: Cancellation of those BTec results which have been published and those which haven't even been released. See below in blue. 

It had not been my intention to comment on the A-Level chaos this year, because I had nothing extra to say given the complete dominance of this story across the media since last Thursday, but it is now quite simply too big to ignore.  Like many others, I have listened and watched with amazement as the Department for Education twisted and turned in its feeble and unsuccessful attempts to correct the initial blunder. This was caused, I believe, because the algorithm used to allocate results had not been properly tested, if at all, in the months leading up to their publication. As a result, the large scale anomalies which have featured in so many news stories and distressed and angered so many young people were not picked up. This is not the first such revolt by young people in this country bringing about change (Greta Thunberg, Black Lives Matter) but the first to be directly brought about by the incompetence shown by government. And make no mistake, it is this which has brought about the U-Turn. I suspect that, as a direct result of the government's ineptitude, it will not be the last such insurrection. 

We now have the inevitable cancellation of the BTec results, Level three of which needs to be upgraded so that results are compatible with A Level grades. When these are revised they will produce more students qualified for University places, although the places on many of the courses for which they are entitled to places will now be full. This is surely now spiralling out of control and one can only speculate what happens next. See next sentence for what should happen. 

I believe that in any decent society Gavin Williamson, the Secretary of State for Education, and Nick Gibbs the Schools Minister,  would and should have resigned without delay. Have they no shame?

Update: See comment below informing that Simon Langton Boys Grammar, with its first super selective intake has been hit badly.

The algorithm to decide A level and now GCSE results, has not been discarded, and its outcomes are still retained for the majority of students whose results are as good as or better than teachers’ estimates. Many others are now being treated fairly by having their predicted grades counted, along with some whose grades were inflated by teachers having benefited out of proportion. So be it. Universities and other Institutes of Higher Education will now have to manage the additional numbers created through this U-Turn, although some are currently saying they now have no room. More chaos. 

Wisely, the same model will be used for GCSE results, to be published on Thursday.  This will create a large increase in students qualified for  A-Level and College courses, but the admission numbers for these courses will have a set limit for numbers, governed by set teacher numbers and physical space, followed by a pecking order of those to be accepted. This usually prioritises those in the same school who are qualified, often followed simply on a geographical basis selecting those living nearest. As a result, a number of students currently at schools with no A-Level courses, or hoping to transfer to a school with a stronger Sixth Form will be disappointed. One can only hope that the schools and colleges have the capacity to increase these numbers to manage this greater demand, but I fear some will be disappointed, often and inevitably some of the most disadvantaged.  
The Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual) regulates qualifications, examinations and assessments in England. As a Non-ministerial Department, Ofqual is accountable to Parliament, through the Education Select Committee. It is not accountable to government ministers and is independent of ministerial government (Wikipedia). Until March, one of its Board members was Dr Jo Saxton, the controversial CEO of the Turner Schools academy trust in Folkestone, who frequently featured in these pages. She has now been appointed to a Civil Service role as Government Policy Adviser for the School System to Gavin Williamson. 
Gavin Williamson
Gavin Williamson has tried to blame everything on Ofqual, after saying there would be no change in the assessment process, although he has ultimate responsibility for this, probably the largest schools fiasco in memory. He has eventually apologised. He was previously Defence Secretary from 2017-May 2019 just over a year ago when he was very publicly sacked by Mrs May following the leaking of confidential National Security Council information, having earned the nickname of 'Private Pike' because of his perceived performance in the post. Many believe he was fortunate to be appointed Education Secretary in July 2019. He is currently working hard to deliver on his sadly unrealistic promise that 'we must make sure all pupils can go back to school in September, giving them the opportunity to thrive and fulfil their potential'. Amongst other obstacles to this, there is a particular one in Kent, where some 70% of secondary school pupils travel to school by bus, way above national norms. I have analysed elsewhere the difficulties this creates in meeting the promise, the deadline being just two weeks away for most children. 
The Schools Minister, Nick Gibb, repeatedly and publicly refused to consider the U-turn over the last week, because he was utterly opposed to Grade Inflation, in which the average grade would rise above that of 2019 by more than 1%. It now will. Where does this leave him?

To conclude, I am delighted for all those young people who have been so unfairly treated and had seen their ambitions dashed in this cruel way but most of whom can now look forward with confidence. I have spoken with a number of families of A-Level candidates, and what there is not for any of them, the traditional buzz of students with examination success. Sadly, I think this was inevitable. Whilst most of these young people are now able to move on and put this behind them, it should not be forgotten that they all now become voters at the next election! However, after both A-Level and GCSE there is a real fear that some students will not be able to access courses for which they are now qualified, but for whom there is no room.  

Last modified on Thursday, 20 August 2020 05:50

1 comment

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 19 August 2020 22:04 posted by Vladimir

    Thanks for your wisdom. Simon Langton Boys had been hit quite hard, perhaps humiliated. This was the first crop of superselected kids yet they were handed last year's grades! PETER: They won't be the only grammar school hit irrationally in this predicament. One I know well outside Kent is Sir William Borlase in Bucks. Here is what the headteacher wrote:

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