‘There is still a lot of mess to clean up’: Student protesters say government must do more to solve grades chaos

‘I worked so hard to be underpredicted by my own school,’ one pupil tells The Independent

Zoe Tidman
Friday 21 August 2020 20:14 BST
Protesters demand Williamson be sacked over exams fiasco_m176492.mp4

Students and teachers called for more to be done to solve this year’s exam grades chaos as they protested outside Downing Street, chanting for the education secretary to quit and holding signs demanding a better appeals process for those unhappy with teacher grades.

Among the demonstrators were A-level students who had missed out on university places this year due to lower than expected teacher-submitted grades, or who are waiting to hear if they have to defer.

Other protesters held signs calling for more support for BTec students – tens of thousands of whom were due to get their results on Thursday, but must now wait while their exam board recalculates grades following the U-turn over GCSE and A-level marks.

The government said on Monday A-level and GCSE students would be able to take either their teacher-estimated or moderated grade – whichever one is higher – following public outcry and protests, after tens of thousands of A-level grades were lowered in a controversial moderation process.

However, the protests have not stopped, as students demand more action amid the fallout to this year’s grading.

People protest the government’s handling of exam results outside Downing Street on Friday (Reuters/Henry Nicholls) (REUTERS/Henry Nicholls)

“What you are showing to the world, what has been shown this year, through the BLM protests, is that actually protests work,” one of the organisers, Elizabeth Adofo, told the crowd. “Change doesn’t come from the top.”

A small group of demonstrators chanted “Gavin Williamson has got to go” outside the gates of Downing Street on Friday.

Anselm Winner, an 18-year-old student holding a sign calling for Mr Williamson to quit, said he wanted to see politicians take “accountability” for this year’s chaos.

The education secretary has resisted calls to resign over his handing of this year’s grading, but has apologised to thousands of students for the distress caused.

“Even with the U-turn, there is still a lot of mess to clean up,” Georgia Hewett – who said she initially missed her Cambridge University offer with downgraded moderated grades – told The Independent.

Georgia Hewett and Anselm Winner said they wanted to see accountability for what happened with exams this year (Zoe Tidman/The Independent) (Zoe Tidman / The Independent)

The 18-year-old said she is still facing uncertainly over her situation, and the past week had been “really stressful”.

“Since the U-turn I got a place,” Ms Hewett, who has now been accepted into Cambridge University, said. “I’m just not sure yet whether I will have to take a gap year next year.”

While universities have vowed to do their best to accommodate everyone who met their offer this year, some institutions said they may have to ask people to defer after thousands of A-level marks were upgraded when teacher-assessed marks were allowed.

Around 15,000 students got rejected from their first-choice university with moderated marks handed out last Thursday, but now meet their offers following Monday’s U-turn, according to Ucas data.

Meanwhile, other students have still missed out on offers due to teacher grades they said were lower than they expected.

Darren Ngasseu told The Independent he had lost his medicine offer at Imperial College London after his teachers submitted BBB grades for him – despite being predicted A*A*A when applying to university.

“I sat admissions tests, interviews, I went through so much to get that offers, worked so hard to be underpredicted by my own school,” the 18-year-old, who is also a young carer, said.

Darren Ngasseu (left) and Kush Bhalla said they both missed out on their top choice university this year (Zoe Tidman/The Independent) (Zoe Tidman / The Independent)

He held a sign calling for “CAG appeals” – which students can request if their school made an “administrative error”.

Fellow protester Kush Bhalla said he also wants a better appeals process for CAGs. He has lost his place at both his top universities this year, and told The Independent he is now looking at doing an online course instead.

Students can also take resits in autumn if they are unhappy with their moderated and teacher-assessed marks.

Other protesters on Friday held signs about delayed BTec results.

“BTec shambles”, read one. “Be open and Transparent End the exam Chaos now!” read another.

Students protested about the handling of BTecs, as thousands are still waiting for results (Zoe Tidman/The Independent) (Zoe Tidman / The Independent)

The qualifications were not included in the government’s U-turn letting students take teacher assessments as grades, and a spokesperson for Pearson exam board said marks would be recalculated “to address concerns about unfairness in relation to A-levels and GCSEs”.

Students will “hopefully” get these results next week, the UK schools minister said on Thursday.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “In light of the education secretary’s announcement on 17 August, appeals against A and AS level and GCSE grades will only be accepted from schools or colleges where they think they made a mistake when submitting a student’s centre assessment grade, or if they believe the exam board made a mistake when it communicated that grade.”

They added: “As in any other year, students will be able to raise a complaint to their centre if they have evidence of bias or that they were discriminated against in the grading process.”

Ofqual, England’s exam regulator, said it had previously considered whether to let students challenge their teachers’ assessed grades and decided against it.

“This is because we don’t believe there is anyone other than the teachers at a student’s school or college who would be able to judge their likely grade if exams had taken place,” an Ofqual spokesperson said.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in