The government has u-turned on its decision to award grades to A-level and GCSE students based on an algorithm which downgraded pupils from underperforming schools - instead allowing predicted grades allocated by teachers to stand.
Education secretary Gavin Williamson apologised to students and parents affected by "significant inconsistencies" with the grading process, adding "I am sorry for the distress this has caused young people and their parents but hope this announcement will now provide the certainty and reassurance they deserve"'
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the government had been caught in a "screeching u-turn", writing on Twitter: "the Tories’ handling of this situation has been a complete fiasco."
It comes after Northern Ireland’s executive said GCSE students’ grades would be decided using teachers’ assessments, while the Welsh government said both GCSE and A-level students will have grades decided by their teachers.
Good morning and welcome to The Independent’s live coverage of UK politics, as the government attempts to dampen the growing anger over this year’s A-level and GCSE exam results.
Government urged to consider GCSE results delay
Ministers are being urged to consider postponing the publication of GCSE results this week as Gavin Williamson faces pressure to abandon the heavily-criticised A-level grading system.
It comes as discontent grows in Tory ranks at the exam regulator, with the chair of the education select committee Robert Halfon hitting out at the “unacceptable” decision to drop guidance for appeals – just hours after it was published at the weekend.
The fiasco over A-levels could escalate further on Thursday as millions of teenagers receive their GCSE grades. There are fears a similar algorithm that resulted in students being downgraded last week could be even worse.
“I urge the education secretary to instruct Ofqual not to release the GCSE results this Thursday as their algorithm is flawed,” said Lord Kenneth Baker, a former Tory education secretary who oversaw the launch of the qualification in the 1980s.
Both Tory MP Halfon and a leading teachers’ union also suggested such a move should be considered.
Exam regulator Ofqual ‘wants to ditch algorithm’
Ofqual and Gavin Williamson are thought to be at odds on the best way of tidying up the almighty A-level mess.
Board members of the regulator now want to “ditch” their hated algorithm and allow teachers’ assessments to stand, but the education secretary is adamant there will be no U-turn, according to The Telegraph.
It follows a farcical weekend in which Ofqual pulled its own guidance on how pupils should appeal only hours after publishing – so it’s still unclear how mock exam results are supposed to be assessed by universities.
The Tory chair of the education committee branded the decision of the exam regulator to suspend A-level appeal criteria – just hours after it was published – as “farcical”.
Robert Halfon said: “That is a huge mess. Goodness knows what is going on at Ofqual. It sows confusion among pupils, headteachers, school teachers, and it’s the last thing we need at this time.”
The new appeal guidelines are still being drawn up by Ofqual, the Department for Education said on Sunday night.
Northern Ireland to let teachers decide GCSE grades
Northern Irish GCSE students will be given grades decided by their teachers after an outcry over the use of an algorithm to award marks for A-level.
Peter Weir, the education minister for the Northern Ireland executive, announced the move to ditch algorithm just days before the publication of results on Thursday, but said the change would not cause a delay.
As in other parts of the United Kingdom, students in NI complained after more than a third of predicted A-level grades were downgraded.
“Having received advice from CCEA and listened to the concerns of school leaders, teachers, parents and young people, I have decided that all GCSE candidates will now be awarded the grades submitted by their centre,” Northern Ireland education minister Mr Weir said.
PM must address A-level crisis today, says Labour
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer called on Boris Johnson to take “personal responsibility” for fixing the deepening A-levels crisis in England – accusing him of having been “invisible” throughout the turmoil.
Mr Johnson had been expected to be in Scotland this week on a camping holiday with his fiancee, Carrie Symonds, and their baby son Wilfred.
But Labour is demanding he hold a press conference today to explain how he intends to right the “historic injustice” suffered by pupils who had had their grades marked down.
Starmer’s deputy Angela Rayner said: “We cannot have another week like this. The prime minister must now take personal responsibility for this crisis by addressing the country in the next 24 hours to explain precisely how he will end this historic injustice.
Downing Street was unable to say whether the trip to Scotland would go ahead.
Scrap algorithm-awarded A-levels, says Iain Duncan Smith
Former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith 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.”
GCSE results delay ‘right thing to do’, says Tory MP
Calls for a delay to the GCSE results continue to grow. Tory MP Stephen Hammond suggested that pushing back the results – due this Thursday – “probably is the right thing to do”.
“I am increasingly thinking that Lord Baker is probably correct,” he told Sky News.
“Unless Ofqual can ensure that what they’re going to put in place is transparent, certain and is likely to reflect true ability... I think one would have expected them to have had that sorted out by now, but if it’s not, taking another two weeks or another week to get that right rather than causing stress … would be something that we should certainly consider, and probably is the right thing to do.”
Asked whether he has full confidence in education secretary Gavin Williamson, Mr Hammond said: “Gavin Williamson needs to spend today working with Ofqual and get this sorted out.
Raab: UK does not accept Belarus election result
The UK has refused to accept the result of the Belarus presidential election as protests continued against the rule of Alexander Lukashenko.
Foreign secretary Dominic Raab said the vote was “fraudulent” and condemned the violence from the Belarusian authorities as they attempted to crack down on the protests. Raab’s comments come three days after the European Union said it did not recognise the results.
The foreign secretary called for an independent investigation by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).
He said: “The world has watched with horror at the violence used by the Belarusian authorities to suppress the peaceful protests that followed this fraudulent presidential election. The UK does not accept the results.
“We urgently need an independent investigation through the OSCE into the flaws that rendered the election unfair, as well as the grisly repression that followed.”
Demonstrators have repeatedly taken to the streets since the August 9 election which saw Lukashenko claim victory but has been condemned as rigged by critics at home and abroad.
Sixth-form colleges want algorithm ‘recalibrated’ immediately
Bill Watkin, of the Sixth Form Colleges Association, said the exam regulator should immediately correct and re-run the algorithm used to award students their A-level results.
He told BBC Breakfast that, according to a study by the organisation, the “algorithm has failed”.
He said: “We’ve just done a study and we looked at 65,000 entries, which is almost half of all the A-level entries in sixth-form colleges, across 41 A-level subjects - every single A-level subject.
“In every single one of those 65,000 entries in 41 A-level subjects, they came out lower than the previous three-year average. So the algorithm has failed.”
Asked how this could be put right, Watkin said: “What we should be doing now is immediately recalibrating the algorithm, rerunning it immediately, and not through a process of tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, of appeals. We need to do a national, institution level, automated rerun as a single appeal.”
Truss vows to fight ‘unfair’ US tariffs on Scotch whisky, as Brexit talks resume
The seventh round of UK-EU future relationship talks get under way in Brussels today. But it looks like the possible trade deal with the US is on ministers’ minds.
Trade secretary Liz Truss pledged to fight US on Scotch whisky, calling them “unacceptable” and unfair. “I will fight to consign these unfair tariffs to the bin of history”, she said – while accusing the EU of failing to protect British and Scottish interests.
The US government said last week it would maintain 15 per cent tariffs on Airbus aircraft and 25 per cent tariffs on other European goods as part of a long-running trade dispute, although it held off adding some extra tariffs as it had threatened.
Truss said she would step up demands for the US to drop tariffs on goods such as single malt Scotch whisky after the industry warned a decision by Washington to retain the levy was putting its future at risk.
“US tariffs on Scotch whisky are unacceptable and unfair. I cannot be clearer about that,” she wrote in The Telegraph. “Whisky-making is one of our great industries and a jewel in our national crown.”
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