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A-levels chaos: Schools welcome grades u-turn

Students now scramble for uni places

20 August, 2020 — By Helen Chapman

Protests in Westminster

HEADTEACHERS say the past week’s A-level results chaos has left schools in a difficult and challenging situation but are “relieved” that students have now been awarded the grades that they were predicted.

Protests saw the government perform a U-turn on how the marks would be handed out as around 40 per cent of grades were downgraded from what schools said their pupils would have got if their exams had not been cancelled due to the coronavirus lockdown.

In many cases, students were affected by the performance of their school in previous years, regardless of their own efforts, as a computer algorithm was used to produce the final grade allocations.

James Hadley, headteacher at Haverstock School in Chalk Farm, said: “It has been very difficult for the students because some of their grades [last Thursday] were a surprise. “It had been difficult for them to secure their places [at universities] before we knew the process for the appeals.”

He added: “We welcome the U-turn because we believe the grades the students got are what the students deserved. “It’s been very chaotic but I think it was right to U-turn on the decision. Some last week missed out on their first choice because of the gap of what we thought they got and the algorithm. But they did secure places elsewhere.”

The traditional results day celebrations had already unfolded in unusual circumstances, as students collected grades with social distancing measures in place.

Schools were closed in March as part of attempts to stop the spread of Covid-19. Mr Hadley said: “In a year that has been so unprecedented I think it was time to trust the process and trust the system. A lot of work went in to show their grades were assessed with real integrity. Ignoring all of that work that had been done and saying ‘well it looks high, so we will run it through a computer’ – I think it is a difficult situation and makes it challenging.”

Sam White, headteacher at William Ellis Secondary School in Parliament Hill, said: “Generally there was a sense of injustice, frustration, not knowing quite what to do, or what actually happens with appeals?”

He added: “They [the government] should have pre-empted this whole situation. We should not have got into this place in the first place. “There should have been some caveat but we have to be realistic – we are all dealing with an unusual situation.”

Among his students, Mr White said one had dropped from a predicted grade D, down to a U. “University places were thrown into disarray,” he added. “One missed out on a place to study at Cambridge but has secured it now.”

The government insists the system was put in place to help make grades fair – assuming schools would tend to upgrade their pupils’ results.

It was only days before the results were released that options such as resits or using mock exam marks to mitigate unfair outcomes were announced.

Mr White said: “Huge amounts of work had gone into setting up the centre-assessed grades (CAG). They are the most thorough way of assessment. We spent days moderating those grades and they are the most reliable piece of evidence.” Teachers in Camden now hope there will not be similar chaos when GCSE results are revealed this morning (Thursday).

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson, who has faced calls to resign, said: “This has been an extraordinarily difficult year for young people who were unable to take their exams. “We worked with Ofqual to construct the fairest possible model, but it is clear that the process of allocating grades has resulted in more significant inconsistencies than can be resolved through an appeals process.”

He added: “We now believe it is better to offer young people and parents certainty by moving to teacher-assessed grades for both A and AS level and GCSE results. “I am sorry for the distress this has caused young people and their parents but hope this announcement will now provide the certainty and reassurance they deserve.”

‘Outrage’ Student protests as some lose out on places at uni

SOME students have been left in limbo after missing out on university places due to A-level grades awarded to them by an algorithm in a system which was later abandoned by the government, writes Helen Chapman.

Amid severe criticism of how pupils were being marked, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson announced on Monday that centre-assessed grades from schools and colleges – grades predicted by teachers – would now be accepted.

The U-turn has led to a scramble to see if students whose grades have no longer been downgraded can get back the places at university they were originally in line for.

Camden Youth MP Athian Akec said: “I think they failed to consider the negative repercussions of this algorithm system. People often talk about them as if they are neutral, but humans make them, there are biases in there.”

Athian Akec

The 17-year-old added: “It was reproducing the inequalities already rife in our education system. Some schools with historically bad grades meant their grades were downgraded. There are many who are rightly outraged. It is clear the government U-turn is not because they care about young people, but because of the intense pressure they were under.”

Some universities said they will honour all their offers but for others there is a wait to see what steps will be taken next.

Jade Iglinsky, 18, from LaSwap, got her first choice and is going to Leeds to study psychology and philosophy, but said her friends were not so lucky.

She said: “I got ‘BBC’ last Thursday and they were the same as my predicted grades. Some of my friends didn’t get into their universities and they are thinking of taking gap years, but from the change [in policy] they don’t know what their plans are now.”

Students protested on the streets of Westminster on Friday before the government changed its policy.

Lola De Winter, 18, who goes to Francis Holland, an independent school in Regent’s Park, said she was downgraded in one subject from a B to a D and missed out on a place at Leeds, her first-choice university.

Since the change in policy, she has been given her predicted grades A*AB – enough to get into Leeds but leaving her uncertain of whether the place is still on offer.

She added: “I had all my plans set out to go to Leeds, then got downgraded, then started to plan for a gap year and now they say, ‘scrap that, I could possibly go this year?’ My year group has been messed around. “There are a lot of people who took their insurances and went to clearing and now could have got into their firms [first university choice] if they waited.”

Ted Mellow, one of the protest’s organisers, said: “The message of protest is not demanding everyone gets A*s but everyone deserves better. It has affected people’s future plans. How are you giving such little thought to people’s lives? I know people who have missed out on Oxbridge opportunities and offers. I feel like it is disrespectful in terms of what they’ve done. I feel they have disregarded us.”

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