A Level results 2020: Islington NEU says government U-turn was “too late”
- Credit: PA
The government’s U-turn on A- level results is good news for downgraded students, but the exams algorithm has been branded an “absolute disgrace” by Islington’s National Education Union (NEU).
When students around the country opened their A-level grades on August 13, the mark was not based on exam results - which were cancelled this summer amid lockdown - but on factors including predictions, mock exams and the attainment of previous years.
While the teachers’ union welcomed the decision to overturn that policy and use teacher-assessed marks for A Level, AS Level and GCSE results, it says the move was made “far too late” and has caused students “tears and sleepless nights”.
Ken Muller, press officer at Islington’s NEU, told the Gazette: “I think it’s shameful. The stress and anxiety that A Level students are being put through... We think it’s outrageous the way they were treated.”
Ken, a father and retired history and politics teacher, was highly critical of the algorithm devised by exam regulator Ofqual (Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation).
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Before students had received their A Level results, he had been scrutinising the actions of the government’s education secretary, Gavin Williamson.
He said: “When [the education secretary] suggested the government could use mock exams for instance, to appeal against their grades, it just shows complete and utter ignorance of how mock exams work and are used.”
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The government’s algorithm was meant to reduce grade inflation, but instead caused thousands of students to receive downgraded results, leading to claims of an unfair system favouring smaller classes and wealthier students.
Mr Williamson apologised for the “distress” caused to young people and parents: “We worked with Ofqual to construct the fairest possible model, but it is clear that the process of allocating grades has resulted in more significant inconsistencies than can be resolved through an appeals process.
“We now believe it is better to offer young people and parents’ certainty by moving to teacher-assessed grades for both A and AS Level and GCSE results.”
Figures from Ofqual showed a total of 35.6 per cent of English A Level grades generated by the algorithm were downgraded by one grade, almost 3pc by two grades and 0.2pc by three grades.
Ken said: “We come into teaching to try and offer opportunities and to help students achieve and most of us are committed, particularly, to under-privileged students achieving their ambitions.
“They are precisely the ones who have been hit by this.”
Ken is also concerned for the 250,000 students taking vocational qualifications, as BTEC students were not included in the government’s U-turn announcement on August 17 despite many having grades subject to the algorithm.
On August 14, Islington students joined protests outside 10 Downing Street against the downgrading of A Level results and calling for Mr Williamson to resign.
Islington’s NEU and Jeremy Corbyn, MP for Islington North, showed support for the student protests. The former Labour leader tweeted: “This U-turn from the government wouldn’t have happened without the #Alevelprotests from so many young people, the important work of the teaching unions and everyone who spoke out.
“My solidarity to all those who took a stand.”
Ken also believes the government’s sudden change in policy was “down to the students, their protest and the articulate expression of their anger”.
He thinks the examination system is in need of reform, not only because of the downgrading issues this year due to Covid-19.
“I think the whole thing has exposed how unfair the examination system is and how biased it’s against underprivileged students,” he said.
“This standardisation doesn’t just happen this year – it happens all the time.
Ken added: “Bright students in so-called failing schools, I would call them schools which are struggling in difficult circumstances, are being marked down through no fault of their own because they are not wealthy.
“Whereas you get other students in small classes of five studying Latin who will not be getting marked down and, as we saw, their A Level grades improved by 4.7pc.
“We think the whole school examination system needs restructuring and made fair to all students.”
Islington NEU members and students will be supporting another protest at Downing Street planned for August 21 for BTEC students.