MP assures 'u-turn by the end of the day' as pressure grows on government to resolve A-levels issue
Video report by ITV News Political Correspondent Shehab Khan
Speculation is mounting that the government could u-turn by the end of the day in the face of growing backlash to the A-levels crisis.
One Tory backbencher has told ITV News there will be a change in government policy later on Monday, as the fallout in England around the downgrading of almost 40% of grades deepens.
On Monday afternoon, the Welsh Government said that A-level and GCSE grades will now be awarded to students in Wales on the basis of teacher assessments.
Meanwhile a growing number of the Conservative party's own MPs have been speaking out over the issues, which have been labelled a "shambles".
It is also understood that Conservative MPs will have a conference call with the Education Minister Nick Gibb at 6pm today.
The Government did not rule out the prospect of a Scottish-style U-turn which would see grades based on teacher assessments rather than an algorithm.
Asked specifically if that was a possibility, a Number 10 spokesman said: “We will continue to work hard to come up with the fairest system possible for pupils.”
Shehab Khan explains the situation as it stands
Paymaster General Penny Mourdant became the first government minister to apply public pressure, tweeting that "delaying a year won’t be an option, and it shouldn’t be an option" and that she will post updates later today.
Meanwhile, ministers have been urged to delay the release of GCSE results until the problems with A-levels had been resolved and Boris Johnson is under pressure to intervene.
Downing Street, however, insisted there would be no delay to the announcement of GCSE results despite the confusion over A-levels.
“We will not be delaying GCSE results,” a Number 10 spokesman said.
Number 10 also said Boris Johnson had confidence in Education Secretary Gavin Williamson and Ofqual chief Sally Collier.
Mr Johnson is on holiday in Scotland this week, but Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer called on him to take “personal responsibility” in dealing with the situation.
He accused the prime minister of being “invisible” throughout the turmoil.
Amid speculation that a U-turn could be coming over the controversial way that results were awarded, a Number 10 spokesman said Mr Johnson broke into his holiday to speak to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson on Monday morning.
“The Prime Minister spoke to the Education Secretary and senior officials this morning,” the spokesman said.
“We continue to work hard to come up with the fairest system possible.”
Sir Keir has been joined by others to condemn the downgrading of results, including former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith and former head of Ofsted Sir Michael Wilshaw, who described the situation as "a terrible farce".
Furthermore, the Conservative former education secretary Lord Baker of Dorking urged ministers to delay the publication of GCSE results, due on Thursday, until the problems with A-levels had been sorted.
Northern Ireland has announced that there will be no use of algorithms to adjust grades in the nation, instead they will abide by the grades awarded by teachers.
The Northern Irish policy is likely to strengthen the argument for a government U-turn in England.
The Department for Education (DfE) has said it is continuing to work with the regulator Ofqual to build as much “fairness into the appeals process as possible” to help what it described as the “most difficult cases”.
“Ofqual continues to consider how to best deliver the appeals process to give schools and pupils the clarity they need,” a DfE spokesman said in a statement issued late on Sunday.
However, the position was not helped by the decision of the exams regulator to issue guidance over the weekend on students using the results of mock exams as the basis for an appeal, only to withdraw it hours later.
No explanation was given for the move, although Labour said that it undermined assurances given to pupils by Education Secretary Gavin Williamson about the appeals process.
Mr Williamson last week gave a “triple-lock” commitment that pupils could use the highest result out of their teacher’s predicted grade, their mock exam, or sitting an actual exam in the autumn.
But the Ofqual guidance said if the mock result was higher than the teacher’s prediction, it was the teacher’s prediction that would count.
Mr Williamson has consistently argued moderation was essential to prevent “rampant grade inflation” after actual exams were cancelled amid the coronavirus crisis, insisting there can be no U-turn.
Meanwhile, dozens of students set off on a march from Codsall Community School in Staffordshire to the Education Secretary’s constituency office on Monday.
The students loudly chanted “trust our teachers” and “you’re having a laugh, Gav” on their half-mile trip.
Some of the crowd held signs with the word “U-turn” and one had a sign with Gavin Williamson pictured as a clown with a multicoloured wig and a red nose.
One member of the public cheered the group, saying “go on kids, show them”.
All the students wore masks as they marched towards Mr Williamson’s south Staffordshire constituency office.
Cars beeped their horns in support of the protesters and others stood outside their homes to clap the demonstration.
Almost all students had signs – one displaying the message “Boris! Have the courage to admit you got it wrong”.
A police car also followed the protest as the protesters chanted.
To further add to the pressure on the government, ITV News understands that the tide is turning on the Tory backbenchers.
ITV News Political Correspondent Paul Brand says: "I am hearing of a significant “change in mood” among Conservative backbenchers who desperately want the government to fix the A level outrage in England. "Several have told me they are pushing for the algorithm to at least be dropped for GCSEs on Thursday (as in NI)."
Former Tory leader Sir Iain said the algorithm-awarded A-level grades should be abandoned, with teacher assessments or mocks used instead. "No algorithm is going to sort our problem out, it's a human issue," he told LBC Radio.
He said concerns about "grade inflation" could be dealt with by accepting that 2020 would not be used as a benchmark for future years because some of the grades would have been "overcooked" by teachers. "I think we're left with the very simple position we have to go pretty much with the assessments or the mocks - and/or the mocks, you could do both depending when the assessments were done - and then get it over and done with. "The idea that you have an algorithm to figure out what they might have done in an exam is really impossible and I think that's where the big mistakes will be made."