A-levels: Boris Johnson told to take charge of results ‘mess’ amid threat of legal action as protests continue
Further confusion is sown by the exams regulator suddenly suspending its own policy for students wishing to appeal their results.
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Boris Johnson has been urged to take charge of the A-level results row as the government and the exams regulator were threatened with legal action.
Hundreds of students continued to demonstrate in Westminster on Sunday, with some chanting “get Gav gone” and “come out Gavin” as they protested outside Education Secretary Gavin Williamson’s departmental building.
Footage has also been shared online of one student burning her A-level results in Parliament Square.
Around 280,000 students in England saw their A-level grades fall by one grade or more from their predicted results following the introduction of a new “moderation” algorithm, which was put in place after the coronavirus lockdown led to exams being cancelled.
Further confusion was added to the row on Saturday night when Ofqual, the exams regulator, withdrew its criteria for mock exam results to be considered as the basis of an appeal, saying it was reviewing the policy.
The Department for Education (DfE) has since attempted to reassure students over how the appeals process will work as many of them lost university places due to their grades being lowered.
In a statement late on Sunday, a DfE spokesman said: “Hundreds of thousands of students have received a calculated grade that will enable them to progress to the next stage of their education or into work.
“We have been clear that we want to build as much fairness into the appeals process as possible to help young people in the most difficult cases and have been working with Ofqual to achieve that.
“Ofqual continues to consider how to best deliver the appeals process to give schools and pupils the clarity they need.”
Mr Williamson has been accused of abandoning his promise of a “triple lock” for students following the announcement of Ofqual’s criteria for using mock exams in appeals.
He said pupils could use their mock results, resit exams in the autumn, or accept the grade they had been awarded.
The Ofqual guidance said if the mock result was higher than the teacher’s prediction, it was the teacher’s prediction that would count.
Conservative MP Robert Halfon, chair of the House of Commons’ Education Committee, branded Ofqual’s actions “unacceptable” as he called for the “huge mess” to be sorted out.
Labour claimed the A-level results row was a “fiasco turning from tragedy to farce” as they called on the prime minister to “get a grip”.
The party’s leader Sir Keir Starmer tweeted: “Weeks of chaos, confusion and incompetence. We need a return to teacher assessments for A-level results and urgent action to avoid the same injustice for GCSE students.
“Boris Johnson has been invisible during this crisis. He needs to take personal responsibility, and fix it.”
A-levels: How controversial algorithm behind moderation row works
Campaigners have promised to begin High Court proceedings against Mr Williamson and Ofqual this week unless they perform a climbdown on the use of the algorithim.
Jolyon Maugham QC, who heads the Good Law Project, told Sky News: “This morning we sent a letter to Ofqual, copying in Gavin Williamson.”
He said the letter points out the lack of a “meaningful appeal system for inidividual students is unlawful”, the system “is so unfair as also to be unlawful” and that Ofqual has a “statutory obligation to ensure that accurate grades are delivered”.
Ofqual has defended its moderation of A-level grades, saying that some schools and colleges had submitted “implausibly high” A-level predictions.
Mr Maugham accused Ofqual of “embedding structural inequality” following widespread criticism that the regulator’s algorithm disproportionately penalised students from schools in disadvantaged communities.
The Sunday Times reported other students and parents are considering legal action, including Curtis Parfitt-Ford – a student whose petition calling for a fairer system has now been signed by more than 225,000 people.
There are concerns next Thursday’s GCSE results will see a repeat of the A-level problems, with The Observer reporting more than 4.6 million GCSEs in England – about 97% of the total – will be assigned solely by Ofqual’s algorithm.
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The government has confirmed schools in England will be able to appeal against A-level and GCSE grades for free.
State-funded schools and colleges will also be able to claim back the cost of unsuccessful appeals as well as fees for autumn exams, the Department for Education said.
Students in Wales can appeal against their A-level grades if they are lower than teachers’ predictions – a plan only announced after 42% of A-level grades were lowered.
And the Northern Ireland Assembly is set to be recalled from summer recess to discuss the ongoing controversy, after what Sinn Fein described as an “absence of any necessary action” from the education secretary.