Exams U-turn: A-level and GCSE teacher grades to be used in England, Wales and Northern Ireland as algorithm scrapped

A-level and GCSE students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland will be handed exam grades as predicted by their teachers instead of a controversial algorithm.

The move marks a stark U-turn by both Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Education Secretary Gavin Williamson, and comes after growing fury from pupils and Tory MPs about the handling of the results crisis.

Ministers have been coming under pressure for several days over the system to grade students whose exams were cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In England, nearly 40% of A-level marks were downgraded, while the system also appeared to advantage private schools, which saw nearly double the number of increase in top marks year-on-year compared to state comprehensives.

The controversial algorithm led to heartbreaking stories from pupils missing out on places based on the performance of their school over recent years.

Sky News heard from those like Holly Barber, an 18-year-old from Bradford who was downgraded from A, A, A to B, C, E who told Sky News “the government have completely ruined a lot of kids’ futures”.

Scotland was the first nation to scrap the moderated grades and let students have what they were predicted by teachers.

Then Northern Ireland followed suit followed by Wales and at 4pm on Monday afternoon, England.

But students who were awarded a higher grade by the moderation process will still be allowed to keep it.

The head of exam regulator Ofqual, Roger Taylor, said the changes were made after “seeing the experience” of students’ “distress” and “anxiety”.

“We realised that we had taken the wrong road here and we needed to change course,” he admitted.

“It became very clear to us that this was not commanding public support.”

The revised A-level results will be loaded into UCAS’ systems “by the end of this week”, Mr Taylor promised, but he did not deny that for some students who accepted offers based on the lower results they got last Thursday, it may be too late.

He also confirmed the change does not apply to BTEC exam results.

Mr Williamson, who only has jurisdiction for education in England given it is a devolved matter, said he was “incredibly sorry for all those students who have been through this”.

“Over the weekend it became clearer to me the level of the number of students who were getting grades that frankly they shouldn’t have been getting,” he added.

Pupils who were downgraded and had to take a place at another university will be able to ask their initial choices if they will still take them – but it is ultimately up to each university, Mr Williamson clarified.

Mr Johnson had defended the algorithm system last week, saying it was “robust” and “dependable”.

His spokesman also said on Monday that: “Ofqual continues to have the support of the PM.”

However some have raised concerns about scrapping any form of moderation – including Ofqual itself, which said last week it was needed given some “generous” initial assessments that predicted “implausibly” high grades.

Sam Freedman, head of the Education Partnerships and a former government adviser, also said “many schools deliberately graded down to fit expected distribution” so the news “just shifts the unfairness on to the pupils at those schools”.

Some Tory backbenchers are also holding off giving full endorsement to the announcement given it does not affect BTECs, one saying: “Technical education is essential to many young people and to our entire economy.”

Pupils in Mr Williamson’s South Staffordshire constituency angry at the situation marched from their high school to his office on Monday.

They carried placards saying “sack Gavin”, “your algorithm doesn’t know me” and “stop playing postcode politics”.

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