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Williamson's last minute ‘triple lock’ changes for A Level and GCSE students ‘smacks of incompetence’

THE government’s 11th-hour move to meet concerns over the reliability of exam results in England was condemned today as “embarrassing” and “shambolic.”

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson announced that students could pick their result — from a choice of their calculated grade, valid mock grade, or autumn exam grade — after exams in May and June were cancelled due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Mr Williamson’s “triple lock” announcement came ahead of A-Level students receiving their results on Thursday. GCSE students receive theirs next Thursday.

The change comes after serious concerns were raised over plans to standardise grades by subjecting teachers’ predictions to statistical moderation based on historic outcomes for each exam centre, students’ prior attainment and the expected national distribution of grades.

Labour had called for other changes, such as setting up a “credible” appeals and resits process for those whose results have been “unfairly downgraded” due to the standardisation, which is more likely to apply to students in deprived areas. 

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said: “To have an 11th-hour decision that’s caused widespread chaos among teachers, families and young people I have been speaking to, it smacks of incompetence.

“It’s shambolic. It’s hours to go before the results. The problem is obvious and it’s been sitting there for weeks or months.

“We now face possibly 40 per cent of young people having their grades changed and downgraded. And this risks robbing them of their future.”

Shadow education secretary Kate Green said that giving students the opportunity to retake A-level exams in October was “not an adequate response,” as many students would be seeking to start courses in September.

Ms Green also described the announcement on using mock-exam results for progression into college and university as “chaotic.” She pointed out that many students would not have sat mock exams.

National Education Union joint general secretary Dr Mary Bousted said Mr Williamson’s U-turn was “embarrassing” after he had spent months “defending the [previous] system devised by Ofqual.”

She pointed out that the changes would not level the playing field between English and Scottish students.

And today, Mr Williamson apologised to “every single child right across the country for the disruption that they've had to suffer” during the pandemic in an interview with the BBC.

He defended the exam systems as “fair and robust” but admitted that there were “things that we would take a different approach on.

“And, you know, where we haven't, where we haven't got everything great, of course, I’m incredibly sorry for that.”

Scottish students have been given the option of having the best grade awarded either by the exam board or by teacher predictions – neither of which would have undergone statistical moderation after a U-turn by Holyrood this week that saw more than 120,000 downgraded results scrapped.

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