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A-levels chaos ‘will hit poorest’

'Students who go to state school will fare badly in the system'

13 August, 2020 — By Helen Chapman

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson during a visit to Camden at election time

CHILDREN from disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to lose out in the chaos of today’s (Thursday) exam results, unions have warned.

Pupils are due to get their A-level grades without having sat the normal summer schedule of examinations. Instead, they are relying on teaching staff’s predictions of how they were likely to have fared had they gone ahead, and each school’s past performance.

Yesterday (Wednesday), the government said that students could also use results from their “mocks” taken in autumn.

But council chiefs and unions are calling for a review of the system amid concerns that as many as 40 per cent of results could be “downgraded” or lower than expected from the computerised scheme used by exam boards. If pupils want to challenge their results, their school has to do it on their behalf.

The next steps could make the difference in whether or not they secure a place at university, as the only other option is the chance to re-sit in the autumn or next summer.

Camden Unison schools convener Hugo Pierre said: “We are calling on the government to abandon their approach.We know that although many of our schools in Camden have excellent attainment, it is a poor inner-city borough, and particularly students who go to state school will fare badly in this system.”

He added: “It is wrong that there is no right for appeal for individual students, especially in a system with in-built bias against students from less fortunate backgrounds.”

Mr Pierre said there is a concern of a “postcode lottery” element, adding: “One of the groups of children who miss out are white, working class boys in areas like Gospel Oak, Queen’s Crescent and Haverstock catchment areas. We think there would also be a big disadvantage to black, Asian and other ethnicities.”

He said teachers’ predictions of pupils’ grades would be “the best assessment of the students’ ability of the subject”, adding: “This government are obsessed with not taking into account the words of professional staff and prefer instead a more elitist way of allocating places in university.”

Privately, there are concerns among some Camden teachers and politicians that only students and parents with the sharpest elbows and a full understanding of their options will challenge the results.

Labour councillor Angela Mason, Camden’s education chief

Camden’s education chief, Councillor Angela Mason, said the council “have concerns about students being downgraded and the potential unfairness in results”, saying: “As a council, we are committed to challenging this by lobbying central government for a review if they do prejudice our young people, to ensure students are given the results they deserve.”

Students are being advised to speak to their schools about raising a complaint if they are unhappy with results. Schools can appeal if they can show that the results do not reflect recent improvements that have been made.

Cllr Mason said: “This was undoubtedly a difficult and uncertain period for our young people, with many worried about being away from teachers, peers, and not being able to sit the exams they have been working hard towards.”

She added: “Despite these challenges, students have been able to adapt to learning at home and our schools have been doing amazing work to keep pupils engaged and supported throughout this crisis. A heartfelt thank you must also go to the borough’s headteachers, teachers and staff who have worked tirelessly to support their students.”

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “Every young person wants to know they have been treated fairly. By ensuring students have the safety net of their mock results, as well as the chance of sitting autumn exams, we are creating a triple lock process to ensure confidence and fairness in the system.”

He added: “No one wanted to cancel exams – they are the best form of assessment – but the disruption caused by Covid-19 meant they were not possible.”


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