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Student revolt wins U-turn on A-level grades

Tories finally let teachers' grades stand and lift admissions cap

THE Tories were forced into a humiliating U-turn on their A-level grading system today following a fierce backlash led by pupils and teachers.

PM Boris Johnson and Education Secretary Gavin Williamson reversed their stance to allow teachers’ assessments to be used instead of the downgraded results – though the announcement was made by regulator Ofqual chair Roger Taylor.

The devolved administration in Wales had earlier announced that it was moving to teacher-assessed grades.

The Tories had previously defended Ofqual’s “robust” algorithm, which slashed the grades of hundreds of thousands of A-level students in England.

But today they were forced to abandon the algorithm – and almost immediately concede too a lift on the cap on university places so that people whose grades now go up can be assured of places they would have been granted on the revised grade, as demanded by the National Education Union (NEU).

Mr Johnson — who is on holiday in Scotland — and Mr Williamson had previously said that there would be no U-turn on the policy, claiming that a shift such as the one made in Scotland would lead to “rampant grade inflation.”

But thousands of grades are now set to rise with teachers’ predictions used, while students who were awarded higher grades by Ofqual’s so-called moderation process will be allowed to keep them.

The change will also apply to GCSE results, which are set to be released on Thursday.

Ofqual chairman Roger Taylor apologised for the “uncertainty and anxiety” caused by the fiasco and Mr Williamson apologised to students and parents affected by “significant inconsistencies” in the grading process.

NEU joint general secretary Dr Mary Bousted credited Mr Williamson for finally doing the “right thing” after students and teachers endured days of “completely unnecessary” stress and worry. 

“Young people have suffered enough. They have few chances in the jobs market as the country faces rising unemployment and recession,” she said.

Dr Bousted added that one of the many lessons for the government is to “listen to the profession.”

“The Department for Education’s determination to put all eggs in one basket through a single set of summer exams has come back to haunt them,” she said. “It is very much a disaster of their own making.

“This is a shameful episode. It must never happen again.”

Dr Bousted called for a careful and systematic review and an “absolute assurance” to next year’s students that there will be no repeat of the scandal.

University and College Union (UCU) general secretary Jo Grady said that the political incompetence has been “unforgivable” and warned that many still have questions that need to be answered. 

“Staff facing unbearable workloads trying to deal with this fiasco have also faced needless cuts and threats of redundancy because of the uncertainty created by the government,” she said.

“It now needs to provide substantial financial support to the sector so that universities can protect all jobs, welcome students safely next term and continue to provide world-leading teaching and research.”

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, warned that delays will have made it harder for universities to find places for students.

“For them, the problem is far from over,” he said.

Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) general secretary Geoff Barton said that while the decision will mean a grade inflation this year, it is “a small price to pay for remedying the manifest injustices” produced by the statistical model used to moderate grades.

Shadow education secretary Kate Green and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer praised the students, parents and teachers who campaigned for the U-turn.

“However, the Tories’ handling of this situation has been a complete fiasco,” Mr Starmer said.

“Incompetence has become this government’s watchword, whether that is on schools, testing or care homes.”

Plaid Cymru shadow education minister Sian Gwenllian said: “Never again should the professionalism and integrity of our teachers and the hard work of our students be called into question.”

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