Exam results fiasco – what is happening across the nations?

The Canary

The question of what to do with A-level and GCSE students in a year when exams have been cancelled has been a tricky equation to solve.

The government on Tuesday came up with an answer for England, but it still has not pleased everyone. Here is a closer look.

– What was the problem?

The coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic forced sustained school closures across the UK during the back end of the spring term and the majority of the summer term.

It has meant pupils have been unable to sit GCSE or A-level exams, crucial in deciding how best to continue their education, where to look for work or training, or which college or university course to apply to.

– Education is a devolved issue – what is the current state of play across England, Wales, Scotland and the north of Ireland?

The picture is a mosaic of approaches, with U-turns announced virtually on the eve of students getting results.

The coronavirus pandemic has had a major impact on student lives.

Coronavirus – Tue Jul 21, 2020
Gavin Williamson has announced a ‘triple lock’ for students in England (Kirsty O’Connor)

– In England?

GCSE and A-level students in England have been assured of a so-called “triple lock” approach, essentially picking their best result.

It means students could accept their calculated grade, appeal to receive valid mock results, or sit their exams when schools resume properly in the autumn.

Education secretary Gavin Williamson announced on Tuesday evening that results in mock tests – which were held before schools were forced to close amid the pandemic – will carry the same weight as the calculated results to be awarded later this month.

– What about Scotland?

Williamson’s announcement followed a U-turn in Scotland, when education secretary John Swinney revealed tens of thousands of students would have their exam results upgraded following a public outcry.

Students complained after the moderation systems resulted in the downgrading of more than 124,000 test results.

Instead, those lowered results would revert to the grades estimated by pupils’ teachers.

First minister Nicola Sturgeon was also forced to apologise for the moderation fiasco, after it emerged students from deprived backgrounds saw their results disproportionately downgraded.

The Scottish education system is different to that in England, Wales and the north of Ireland, with Highers being the equivalent of A-levels.

– What’s happening in Wales?

The Welsh government has insisted there will be no such problems for A-level results there.

Housing and local government minister Julie James said during a briefing on Tuesday that Wales uses different modelling to Scotland and that nearly half of pupils’ final mark was based on AS-levels completed last year.

There had been concerns from students that such a model would mean pupils at schools which had historically not performed as well would be unfairly penalised.

But James said: “We are obviously very keen that our learners are given the accolade they need for the hard work that they’ve done but also that they get the grades that they deserve, and that those grades are robust and will take them forward into their lives with confidence.

“We’re not expecting what happened in Scotland to happen here.”

– And in the north of Ireland?

Results will be based on teachers’ predictions and statistical modelling.

Teachers were asked to predict the grades they thought pupils would have achieved had exams gone ahead, based on coursework, the result of mock exams, and homework.

Schools were also requested to rank pupils in each subject.

But Northern Ireland’s exams body, the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment, said students will have a broader scope to appeal their A-level and GCSE grades.

– What are the main concerns about the various approaches?

Few students would have been able to predict the impact the pandemic would have on them – in particular, that their final grade might hinge on mock exam results.

Student approaches to mock exams vary – some see it as a chance to test themselves, some deem it a distraction. Others are ambivalent.

So it is understandable that there is concern that exams previously dismissed as being of low value by some students are now being relied upon to determine their futures.

There are also concerns that teacher estimates might not be accurate.

While different nations have had different approaches, the confusion and last-minute goalpost-changing in England and Scotland in particular may result in a wave of appeals from students – although there will be a lot of pressure to get those appeals dealt with promptly ahead of the new academic year.

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  • Show Comments
    1. there is plenty of research going back at least 30-40 years which shows that teachers predicted grades differ from actual attainment in around 50% of cases with the majority of those over-predicted – so for all those wanting to defer to teachers professional judgment – sorry evidence show it is not very good. Plus we are one of the few countries in the world (if not the only one) that uses predicted grades for admission to university – rather than actual grades obtained

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