Pressure mounts on Williamson as Swinney announces A-levels U-turn

Keir Starmer, other MPs and unions urge government to address unfairness of grading system, after Scotland says it will restore nearly 120,000 downgraded results

Education secretary Gavin Williamson is facing rising pressure to address unfairness in Thursday’s A-level results, following the Scottish government’s dramatic A-levels U-turn today [11 August].

Scottish education secretary John Swinney said all downgraded awards would be withdrawn and re-issued based solely on teacher or lecturer judgement. Leader of the opposition Keir Starmer will tomorrow [12 August] tell Boris Johnson he risks “robbing a generation of young people of their future” unless he, too, “changes course”.

It was revealed by the Guardian on Friday that 39% of A-level grades submitted by teachers are set to be downgraded when exam results in England are published on Thursday 13 August.

Ahead of a meeting with teachers and parents in Wakefield, the Labour leader said: “Pupils and parents are rightly worried that years of hard work are about to be undone because a computer has decided to mark their child down.

“For too long, the Tories have considered the needs of young people as an afterthought when their needs should have been central.

“It’s a blatant injustice that thousands of hard-working young people risk having their futures decided on the basis of their postcode.

“The SNP have been forced into a humiliating U-turn after a shambolic few days. With 24 hours before results are released, I would urge the Prime Minister to change course, or he risks robbing a generation of their future.”

It’s a blatant injustice that thousands of hard-working young people risk having their futures decided on the basis of their postcode – Keir Starmer

Labour is calling on the Prime Minister to:

  • Help students to correct their grades, with an appeals process and a credible plan for resits.
  • Publish details of the Ofqual algorithm now in order to clarify which students are likely to be worst affected by it, help HE institutes with admissions, and help students understand their results – as it stands, details of the Ofqual model used will not be published until after results day.
  • Go further than Michelle Donelan’s letter to vice-chancellors today [11 August] and issue statutory guidance to HE and FE providers over greater flexibility towards students who are affected by the standardisation process and miss out on their required grades.
  • Ensure no GCSE student should be moderated down to below a Grade 4 in English or maths.

‘Students deserve better than this mess’

The University and College Union (UCU) has also responded to the Scottish Government’s A-levels U-turn, and warned of damage to students’ life chances if similar action is not taken in England.

“Students should be congratulated for their hard work in these unprecedented circumstances and deserve better than this mess,” said UCU general secretary Jo Grady. “The U-turn and apology from John Swinney is welcome and the rest of the UK must now ensure that no student misses out because of a flawed system of awarding marks.

“Allowing algorithms to downgrade marks and hold students back was wrong. Many students’ life chances could still be damaged because of a clearly faulty system.”

UCU’s Scotland official Mary Senior said: ‘This belated U-turn is welcome news for the thousands of Scottish students who could have missed out due to the farce around the results last week.

“Equally welcome is the commitment to create additional places in Scotland’s universities and colleges. It’s vital that these additional places are fully funded so students are well supported to progress their studies.”

‘The UK government should follow the lead of Scotland by scrapping moderated grades’

NUS President Larissa Kennedy also urged the UK government to “follow the lead of Scotland by scrapping moderated grades. This temporary measure must be taken to avoid a situation in which thousands of students do not receive the grades they deserve because of where they live.

“To be clear, this is the least worst option available and this situation has exposed inherent failings within our exams system which must be addressed. The use of predicted grades is preferable to moderation – but be in no doubt, this still means in-built systemic disadvantage for students of colour and disabled students. We must use this opportunity to design fair assessments for all students in future.

“The Scottish government have taken decisive action to respond to this situation, which must now be reflected across the UK. Students have worked incredibly hard throughout their education, and their efforts should be recognised. Now should be a time to celebrate their achievements rather than place a limit on their potential.”

Other MPs urging Gavin Williamson to act include former Conservative education secretary Justine Greening, former Conservative universities minister Jo Johnson and Liberal Democrat education spokesperson Layla Moran.


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