Education Secretary responds to 'A-level chaos'
Secretary of State for Education Gavin Williamson joins Eamonn, Ruth, headteacher Christine Cunniffe and psychologist Emma Kenny to respond to accusations of 'chaos' on the morning that thousands of pupils across Britain receive their A-level results.
Gavin began: “97% of the grades that have been awarded have been either on the centre assessment grades or within one grade of that centre assessment grade, but we do recognise that whatever system we put in place, the best system that we can never have is to have a system where people are having exams.
“As a result of Covid we weren’t in a position to be able to do that and we Ofqual consulted widely on this, extensively the largest consultation that they’ve ever had to get a system that’s as fair as possible.”
He continued: “As a father myself, as someone who always wants the absolute best for all children right across the country, it’s about trying to put as much fairness into the system as possible. There are young people out there, and we suspected that this would be the case, where actually the result that they get isn’t actually true and a total fair reflection of the work that they put in and the reason that we’ve made the changes that we have is to do everything that we possibly can do to help young people…”
On why the government did not entrust teachers to decide a pupil’s grade, Gavin said: “The reason why we had to put a set of checks and balances in place, because you can get quite considerable inconsistency across the country, and we’d worked closely with, it was mentioned, the Headteachers’ union ASCL… and one of the key things that was really important was to have that moderation…”
Christine interjected: “I think there are too many inconsistencies anyway, because I’ve seen some of our students go down two grades and they were at the top of the school… Is this the right time for checks and balances when we really don’t know what they are?... Come on they’ve [the students] been through enough, let them move on.
“We, as professionals, have given those grades in good faith, been very robust and we followed the consultation to a tee. Now let’s do that. In the statistical standardisation teachers’ professional judgement should have been heavily weighted.”
Emma Kenny accused the government of saying they don’t trust teachers, despite their expertise: “How about sorry? You are disrespecting teachers and young people… Listening to teachers, which is the main thing you should be doing. Everybody in the UK right now is saying that… It’s failed really hasn't it?”
On those students who now won’t get into their preferred universities, Gavin added: “What we’ve been asking and working with universities is to make sure they show as much flexibility as possible with these students. Make sure that the final decisions are not made until they’ve had an opportunity to go through an appeals process.”
And on how long the appeals process will now take: “All of those students that now need to have appeals turned around, as long as they’re swiftly in, those appeals will be turned round before the 7th September, which is cut off date for universities where they’ll be making those decisions. And we’ve been working very closely to make sure that happens. We want to do everything we can do to make sure that every child goes to university that’s wanting to go to university presently.
“Anything I can do to make sure that is happening, I will do but we do have to have consistency. Where there are youngsters who do feel they have been let down, where they do feel that their grades aren’t a fair reflection, making sure that we have that robust appeal process in place and that’s what we’ve done through the triple lock…”
On why England didn’t follow Scotland’s approach of ditching this original plan, Gavin admitted: “Well, overtime they [students] are in competition and you have to have some consistency in terms of grades. We have to be sure that we maintain standards… Not having standards, not having the same level of consistency, we’ve had some schools, for example, that have put every child in as either an A or an A* or B.”
Christine said: “I’m also quite incensed that young people had their first choice universities long before this pandemic came to Europe and those universities and those schools backed those children in their first choice. And that’s where they should be… Leave it until 7th September, those places have gone. We can do this, you can do this…”
Gavin responded with: “The whole basis of the assessment, the core of it, the cornerstone of it, is teachers’ assessment and teacher ranking of those students. That’s been absolutely essential and a key part of it. And what we’re seeing is that most students have got their A-Level grades and will be able to progress onto the next level, whether they want to go to university, whether they want to go to college, whether they are going into the workplace.
And on the process being the same for GCSEs next week, Gavin responded: “That’s right, yes.”
Emma closed with: “I just want to apologise for a system that’s clearly broken.”