Gavin Williamson must ensure no student is unjustly treated by this exams fiasco

Editorial: The prime minister and education secretary had plenty of time to plan for A-level results but do not seem to have used it well

Thursday 13 August 2020 19:53
Gavin Williamson defends last minute A-level grading changes

The education secretary has had since March to do his homework on how to deal with the predictable consequences of cancelling public exams. He does not seem to have used that time well. Even after the crisis in Scotland that erupted last week, which warned him of the political costs of using an algorithm to generate exam grades, his last-minute cramming seems to have been to no good effect.

His solution – to offer students the chance to appeal on the basis of mock exam results, or to sit the actual exam in October – has failed to hold back the tide of unhappiness at a broad-brush approach that is bound to produce many individual injustices.

The essential problem with a formula that produces results that are in line with aggregate results from previous years is that individuals are not aggregates. Even if the English system uses more information about individual students’ prior performance than the Scottish one did, it is the final adjustment that causes hard cases. The final results have been “moderated” to bring them into line with previous years. It was this adjustment that was abandoned on Tuesday by John Swinney, the Scottish education secretary, which allowed generous teacher assessments to stand, inflating grades achieved by 14 per cent.

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