Westminster Column - Exam Results

21st August 2020

This year has been particularly difficult for young people, with normal schooling superseded by remote learning, then no exams at the end of the academic year.

I am very much aware of the concern and frustration caused by the way in which last week grades were allocated in the absence of exams.

When A Level results came out last Thursday, I received messages from some anguished students, parents and teachers. While I know that many students got the results they hoped for, the impact on those who did not was profound. It soon became clear that this was affecting the university prospects for strong students from South Shropshire. 

It was also impacting on how schools and colleges were set up to help deal with appeals, at a time when much of their focus needs to be on ensuring safe return of pupils for the start of next term in two week’s time.

Monday’s announcement has brought clarity for most. Teachers’ centrally assessed grades by each school or college will now be accepted for A-Levels, AS-Levels and GCSEs. This is good news for most of those who missed out on the grades they expected. Despite some party-political jargon, this follows the same policy announced by the SNP in Scotland, and Labour/Lib Dems in Wales.

There is no substitute for exams, but I had hoped the system used by Ofqual would be more robust. I believe their efforts were to try and account for the fact that last year 79% of grades were overpredicted, with only 13% correctly predicted, and 8% underpredicted. But clearly, this did not take into account the very human impact this crisis has had on many young people. 

I note the Chair of Ofqual and the Secretary of State for Education have apologised for the distress caused.

This change in policy will have ramifications for university places, I called on Monday for Universities, exceptionally this year due to the impact of COVID19, to have the limit on the number of places offered removed, where they can cope safely with increased student numbers for the coming academic year. 

I am pleased that this call by me and others was swiftly heeded, with the Education Secretary announcing the cap on university places will be removed, to allow universities to welcome as many students as possible.

I sincerely hope this announcement removes much anxiety and brings welcome reassurance to all those affected, including those receiving their GCSE grades this week.

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