PM urged to take charge in growing A-levels ‘chaos’ as students vent anger

Video report by ITV News Political Correspondent Carl Dinnen

Boris Johnson is facing calls to take charge of the growing A-levels “chaos” amid mounting anger among pupils, teachers and MPs.

Furious students marched on Westminster to demand the resignation of the education secretary, after another setback for those who feel their exam results were unfairly downgraded.

There was also disbelief at Westminster after guidance for children in England seeking to appeal against their grades being marked down was suddenly withdrawn without explanation.

One senior Conservative MP said the situation is a “huge mess” while Labour said it is up to the Prime Minister to “get a grip” and sort out the situation.

Education unions also condemned the Government for the “political Punch and Judy show” over its handling of issues.

Boris Johnson is accused of failing to show leadership Credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA

Late last night the regulator, Ofqual, withdrew its policy for appeals in England without explanation, just hours after publishing it.

The exams regulator said the policy was "being reviewed" by its board and that further information would be released “in due course”.

Now the government is being threatened with multiple lawsuits from students who were given lower grades based on the past performance of their school. Labour are calling for Boris Johnson to take personal responsibility - and have demanded he address the country within the next 24 hours.

In a protest which began in Parliament Square on Sunday afternoon and saw around 300 students and their supporters march to the Department of Education and Downing Street, many carried placards reading "trust our teachers" and calling for Education Secretary Gavin Williamson to resign.

One demonstrator burnt her results saying she felt the situation she and her peers are in was "bull***t" and she did not want her given grades "to define me".

Olivia Styles said she was angry that her grades had been lowered from a predicted BBC to BCD, but she was lucky her university plans had not been impacted by her grades being reduced as she had an unconditional offer.

"I just think it is bulls**t, I just don't want those grades to define me," the 18-year-old from Basingstoke said.

"By burning them it's sort of saying I don't accept these results, these are not what I wanted, these are not what I deserved.

"I wanted to burn them to say I want new results.

"I want the results I've worked hard for over the past two years. I don't want this piece of paper to define me as a person."

Students are angry at the way many of their grades have been reduced. Credit: PA

Others at the protest were not so lucky with their university places and said the algorithm used to determine their final grades after exams were cancelled due to the pandemic had unfairly penalised students from underprivileged backgrounds.

"My future has basically just been ripped out of my hands for no reason," Daisy Dewar, an 18-year-old care leaver who lost out on a scholarship to study medicine at the University of Nottingham said.

"I think because of my class and my household income, I think that's the reason I've been affected so badly.

"They took my grades down from A*AA to BCC.

"I had four offers from medical school and now that's over.

"It's been really difficult, I am a care leaver, I've had to overcome massive obstacles and school for me, I wanted to create a better future for myself from what I had been dealt.

"I don't really have a family, my mum died and my dad's abusive, so I worked really hard to create a better future... it's all been thrown back in my face.

"Now I'm not really sure what to do, it's really hard when you've put your absolute everything into trying to get better."

She added: "They've said we can appeal but the grades I can appeal with if they had just given in the first place, I would have had my place. It's a bit too little, too late."

The demonstrators called for Mr Williamson to resign, as well as for universities to honour the offers they had previously made to students.

One of the organisers was Ted Mellow from north London.

“Everywhere you look, people are either angry or confused and, quite frankly, that’s the government’s fault," the 18-year-old said.

“We’re not fighting so that everyone gets A*s and As because we know that’s unrealistic, we’re fighting so that people get the grades they deserve.”

Demonstrators marched with signs criticising exams regulator Ofqual and the Government, with some featuring reminders to vote at the next general election.

Conservative MP Robert Halfon, who chairs the Commons Education Select Committee, said the regulator’s actions were “unacceptable” and the situation "a real mess".

"We need to make sure we have an exams system which is fair for everyone," Mr Halfon told ITV News.

"Clearly things have gone wrong," the senior Tory MP said.

"The way to resolve this is to have a fair appeals system....

"So that any student, whoever they may be, if they feel their grades aren't fair can appeal... and have a fast turnaround."

He added that the select committee had told the exam regulator that the appeal system was "too narrow... more than a month ago" and "we urged Ofqual to publish their algorithm - standardisation model - so that it could be subject to scrutiny.

"We said the grading system may hurt the disadvantaged, those things have come to pass."

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While Labour said it was up to Prime Minister Boris Johnson to “get a grip” and sort out the situation.

"It is completely and utterly shameful that the government have done what they've done," the party's deputy leader said.

"They've had months to sort out the exam situation."They've devastated the lives of young people with what's happened, where some have had their life chances literally pulled from under their feet through no fault of their own," Angela Raynor told ITV News.

People take part in a protest outside the Department for Education in response to the downgrading of A-level results. Credit: PA

The decision by Ofqual to suspend its criteria threatened to plunge the A-level process into further disarray after almost 40% of predicted grades were downgraded by the regulator’s “moderation” algorithm and many students missed out on their first choice universities.

In a statement late on Saturday, an Ofqual spokesperson said: “Earlier today we published information about mock exam results in appeals.

“This policy is being reviewed by the Ofqual board and further information will be published in due course.”

Students take part in a protest in Parliament Square. Credit: PA

Labour also has accused Education Secretary Gavin Williamson of backtracking on assurances given to students about the appeals process.

Mr Williamson gave a “triple lock” commitment that students could use the highest result out of their teacher’s predicted grade, their mock exam or sitting the actual exam in the autumn.

However, in its document, Ofqual said that if the mock result was higher than the teacher’s prediction, it was the teacher’s prediction which would count.

The regulator said while mock exams did not usually cover the full range of content, the assessments took into account a student’s performance across the whole course.

The latest setback comes as ministers were braced for a fresh backlash when GCSE results for England are announced on Thursday.

People take part in a protest over the government's handling of A-level results. Credit: PA

Like the A-level results, they will initially be based on teacher assessments and then “moderated” by the Ofqual algorithm to bring them in line with previous years’ results.

Mr Williamson has said the process was necessary to prevent “grade inflation” which would render the results worthless after actual exams had to be abandoned due to the coronavirus outbreak.

However critics have complained it has led to thousands of individual injustices, disproportionately penalising students from schools serving disadvantaged communities.

Geoff Barton, general Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the Qfqual document was “surreal and bureaucratic”.

He urged the government to follow the example of Scotland – where there was a similar outcry – and abandon the moderated results and go back to teacher assessments.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Hundreds of thousands of students have received a calculated grade that will enable them to progress to the next stage of their education or into work.

“We have been clear that we want to build as much fairness into the appeals process as possible to help young people in the most difficult cases and have been working with Ofqual to achieve that.

“Ofqual continues to consider how to best deliver the appeals process to give schools and pupils the clarity they need.”