Teachers' 'implausibly high' predictions forced A-level downgrades, say Ofqual

  • Video report by ITV News Political Correspondent Libby Wiener

England’s exam regulator said it was forced to downgrade thousands of A-level results owing to “implausibly high” predictions submitted by teachers.

A-level results day descended into chaos as 39.1% of teachers’ estimates for pupils in England were adjusted down by one grade or more, according to data from the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual).

The downgrades – amounting to some 280,000 entries – were enacted as the nation’s education officials grappled with the vexing issue of how to determine results in a year in which exams were cancelled due to coronavirus.

The Government is coming under increasing pressure to review its moderation and appeals system, with pupils complaining they have been let down, and experts warning poorer students will be affected most due to reassessments which consider schools’ past performances.

A protest by students, parents and teachers is planned for Downing Street on Friday morning, while at least one student is reportedly threatening legal action against Ofqual.

But Ofqual said it had been forced into the downgrades by inaccurate predictions by a few schools, although the vast majority had submitted accurate estimates.

“Because there was no opportunity to develop a common approach to grading, the standard applied by different schools and colleges varies greatly,” an Ofqual spokesman told The Daily Telegraph.

“A rare few centres put in implausibly high judgments, including one which submitted all A* and A grades for students in two subjects, where previously there had been normal distribution.”

While the proportion of students with A-level grade reductions was largest among those from the most deprived backgrounds, the regulator has insisted there was no evidence of systemic bias.

Schools and colleges were told to submit the grades they thought each student would have received if they had sat the papers, alongside a rank order of students.

(PA Graphics) Credit: PA Graphics

Exam boards moderated these centre-assessment grades to ensure this year’s results were not significantly higher than previous years, and the value of students’ grades were not undermined.

After standardisation, the proportion of A-level entries awarded top grades still rose to an all-time high, with 27.9% securing an A or above this year, figures for England, Wales and Northern Ireland show.

But school leaders warned of a “great deal of volatility” in results at individual centres, with some colleges reporting more than half of their grades had been adjusted downwards after moderation.

Overall, in England a total of 35.6% of grades were adjusted down by one grade, 3.3% were brought down by two grades and 0.2% came down by three grades, figures show.

(PA Graphics) Credit: PA Graphics

Some 85% of candidates classed as having a “low” socio-economic status by Ofqual had been predicted to achieve a C and above by their schools.

But this fell to 74.6% once final grades were calculated under this year’s new moderation process.

By contrast, the proportion of students from the least deprived backgrounds, or “high” socio-economic status, awarded a C and above fell by 8.3 percentage points during the process, from 89.3% to 81.0%.

Ministers are now facing calls to urgently review the moderation process in England and to make sure schools and colleges do not face financial barriers when lodging appeals for students.

David Hughes, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, who has written to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson, is concerned the process may have disadvantaged larger centres – such as colleges.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, called on the Government and Ofqual to review the moderation process in England “as a matter of urgency”.

Friends Helen Lee, left, and Sophia-Ellis Shipp congratulate each other at Peter Symonds College, Winchester. Credit: Andrew Matthews/PA

Education unions – including the National Union of Students – have called on the Government to follow Scotland’s lead and scrap moderated exam grades and use teachers’ original predicted grades instead.

On Tuesday, Scotland’s Education Secretary said lowered marks would be reverted back to teachers’ estimates following an outcry from students and parents.

The Government announced late on Tuesday students in England would have the “safety net” of being able to use mock exam results as the basis for an appeal if they are higher than the calculated grade.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has called for all fees for A-level appeals to be waived in response to thousands of pupils having their results downgraded.

The Welsh Government has already announced there will be no fees for appeals there, but the Department for Education said appeal fees were a matter for individual exam boards in England, adding there was no charge if an appeal is upheld.

A-level results day descended in chaos as 39.1% of teachers' estimates for pupils in England were adjusted down. Credit: PA

Sir Keir also urged the Government to consider the sort of grading U-turn made by the Scottish Government this week.

He said: “The unprecedented and chaotic circumstances created by the UK Government’s mishandling of education during recent months mean that a return to teacher assessments is now the best option available.

“No young person should be at a detriment due to Government incompetence.

“Time is running out. We need action in days, not weeks.”

Deputy Labour Party leader Angela Rayner said teachers were best placed to grade their students and that having an algorithm decide results had a "disproportionate impact" on young people in more disadvantaged areas.

She told ITV News: "Eton and private schools, children in those areas, have disproportionately had their grades inflated, they're created a grade system where they've got better grades. "Whereas the children in the north east or the north west, my constituency, had had their's dumbed down and they've seen even more than one grade disadvantage for them. "And that's devastating for them because an algorithm computer has decided that's what they should get this time rather than the teacher, who has known that young person.

"And let's not forget, this is about young people getting into university, getting them onto the next stage of their education, teachers aren't don't set them up to fail, to put them on a course they won't be able to achieve. The teachers are doing what they believe as professionals in the right thing for their students and it's the fairest process