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A-level exams chaos ‘will hit poorest’

Pupils let down by government’s algorithm as schools resolve to appeal downgraded marks

14 August, 2020 — By Helen Chapman

Tim Fox, headteacher at Highbury Fields School

CHILDREN from disad­vantaged backgrounds are more likely to lose out in the chaos of yesterday’s (Thursday) exam results, unions have warned.

Pupils received their A-level grades without having sat the normal summer schedule of examinations and have been left with three optons: results based on teaching staff’s predictions, taking their mock exam grades from last autumn or re-sitting the tests.

But there are concerns that as many as 40 per cent of yesterday’s results could have been “down­graded” or come out lower than expected from the computerised scheme used by exam boards.

Tim Fox, headteacher at Highbury Fields School, said the school would be appealing the results of 26 pupils. This amounts to 45 per cent of their A-level students.

“We can’t fathom why they were downgraded when you look at their prior attainment,” he said.

“Lots of pupils got higher results in their AS exams. We will be advocating on their behalf.”

He added: “The Department for Education have had since the end of March to design a process and to make a last-minute announcement added uncertainty to what is already a very anxious time.

“What’s really being missed are individuals who, through the system put in place due to no fault of their own, are feeling disappointed and disempowered. That’s to do with the inconsistent messaging the government have given.”

Mr Fox said all of the pupils in Year 13 secured a place at university or higher education. Seventy per cent of pupils secured their first choice for university.

Islington’s National Education Union rep Ken Muller said: “The use of this statistical model doesn’t take into account the abilities of individual students. It is going to disproportionately affect disadvantaged and working-class children.

“You will get children who are being graded down by problems their school has got because of an algorithm.”

He said teachers’ assessments of pupils’ grades would be the preferred process instead of the government’s approach, adding: “The most competent people to set grades are teachers.

“Shamefully, why didn’t they talk to the people who knew what they were talking about? We deal with this every year and deal with it very well.”

Students are being advised to speak to their schools about raising a complaint if they are unhappy with results.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “By ensuring students have the safety net of their mock results, as well as the chance of sitting autumn exams, we are creating a triple lock process to ensure confidence and fairness in the system.”


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