Labour slams Johnson over “mutant algorithm” exam results claim

Elliot Chappell
© UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

Kate Green has slammed Boris Johnson for “shamelessly trying to avoid taking responsibility” by claiming that a “mutant algorithm” had been responsible for thousands of students having their exam results downgraded.

The Shadow Education Secretary reacted this afternoon to the comment made by the Prime Minister earlier today about the revising down of nearly 40% of A-Level students’ teacher-predicted grades by the exams regulator.

During an address to pupils at a secondary school in the East Midlands this afternoon, Johnson claimed: “I’m afraid your grades were almost derailed by a mutant algorithm… I’m very, very glad that it has finally been sorted out.”

Green said that the government’s standardisation process was to blame for the moderated grades, which the Prime Minister had defended on results day as “robust” and “good and dependable for employers”.

Responding to his comment today, Green said: “Boris Johnson is shamelessly trying to avoid taking responsibility for the exams fiasco that his government created.

“Responsibility for this shambles lies squarely with Downing Street and the Department for Education, who set out how they wanted the algorithm to work and were warned weeks in advance of issues, but repeatedly refused to address the problems they had created.

“It is this Tory government’s incompetence that is to blame for the exams fiasco.”

The government announced that students would receive grades standardised by an algorithm designed by Ofqual in April instead of sitting the tests after schools were closed in response to the coronavirus crisis.

The regulator took teacher-estimated grades and then issued results to pupils after moderation based on historical data for each centre or school, previous levels of attainment in cohorts, and the expected national distribution of grades.

But following a public outcry with the release of A-Level results earlier this month, in which 2 in 5 students in England saw their teacher-predicted grade moderated down, the government performed what Labour called a “screeching U-turn”.

Despite having repeatedly defended the algorithm, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson announced that it would be scrapped and that the government would accept the initial teacher predictions as the final awards for students.

The Times reported last week that Williamson had been warned in advance that the algorithm would lead to unfair and incorrect grades being awarded, but insisted on applying the standardisation to the results anyway.

Labour has called for “full transparency” on the chaos, which saw a U-turn on other school results as well. It also demanded that the Department for Education publish all correspondence to and from the Education Secretary about the algorithm.

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