Schools in England will be able to appeal against A-level and GCSE grades free of charge, according to education secretary Gavin Williamson.
His announcement came amid further criticism of the government’s handling of the exams system, after thousands of pupils in England had their results downgraded.
“Deluge” of appeals
Williamson told the Times:
I do not want a youngster to feel they are in a situation where there is a strong and legitimate case for grounds for appeal, but an appeal is not made on grounds of cost.
That would be a real, shocking injustice.
You will have obviously a large number of appeals. But I would rather have a strong, robust fair appeals process that makes sure that youngsters get the grades that they deserve as against being in a situation where there is an injustice that carries on.
But he again said there would be “no U-turn” on the grading system, claiming this would “severely erode” the value of qualifications and lead to grade inflation.
Making appeals free may not be enough, as shadow education secretary Kate Green has warned there could be a “deluge” of appeals from students unhappy with their A-level results. She said it may prove impossible to get them all processed in time for students to take up their university places.
We have seen concerns that appeals to A level results could lead to grades going down.
We can reassure students that, as there is grade protection this year, no grades will go down as a result of an appeal.
— Ofqual (@ofqual) August 13, 2020
Protests and internal criticism
Protesters gathered outside Downing Street on Friday 14 August chanting for Williamson to be sacked, a call echoed by some opposition MPs. But prime minister Boris Johnson is backing Williamson. He has insisted that he has confidence in Williamson and described the system as “robust”.
Yet some conservative MPs have voiced their concerns about the process used by exam regulator Ofqual to moderate A-level results. Robert Syms suggested the Westminster government may have to follow Scotland’s lead if the appeals procedure failed to deal with the issues. The SNP-led administration at Holyrood opted to allow results estimated by teachers to be accepted.
Robert Halfon, the Conservative chairman of the Commons Education Committee, earlier expressed concern that Ofqual’s model to moderate A-level results penalised disadvantaged students. He called on the regulator to publish details of the algorithm it used to make its calculations. Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s The World At One programme, he said:
I am worried about it because some figures suggest that disadvantaged students have been penalised again.
I am also worried about further education colleges, because they have been improving in recent years and yet they seem also to have suffered under this grading system.
If the model has penalised disadvantaged groups this is very serious and if it has disadvantaged colleges that has to be looked at. Ofqual will have to adjust the grades.
Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham said he’s considering a legal challenge against Ofqual over the “unfair” A-level results process, given the impact on pupils in his region.
Ofqual has said that a “rare few centres” put in “implausibly high judgments”, and said that an appeals process is in place to correct any mistakes.
Meanwhile, Labour leader Keir Starmer tweeted:
The unprecedented and chaotic circumstances created by the UK Government’s mishandling of education during recent months mean that a return to teacher assessments is now the best option available.
No young person should be at a detriment due to Government incompetence.
— Keir Starmer (@Keir_Starmer) August 14, 2020
Liberal Democrat education spokeswoman Layla Moran called for Williamson to step down from his role with immediate effect. She said:
Gavin Williamson is an education secretary out of his depth and out of excuses. He must take responsibility for his mistakes and step down with immediate effect.
Our young people and our country cannot afford these blunders to continue into September, ahead of a potential second wave.
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