Starmer welcomes government’s “screeching U-turn” on exam results

Elliot Chappell
© UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

Keir Starmer has welcomed a “screeching U-turn” on exam results after confirmation that the controversial algorithm will be scrapped and students awarded grades based on teacher predictions.

The Labour leader reacted to a much-anticipated announcement on Ofqual-generated school grades this afternoon, describing the decision to abandon the standardisation process as a “victory for thousands of young people”.

Commenting on the decision, he said: “The government has had months to sort out exams and has now been forced into a screeching U-turn after days of confusion.

“This is a victory for the thousands of young people who have powerfully made their voices heard this past week. However, the Tories’ handling of this situation has been a complete fiasco.

“Incompetence has become this government’s watchword, whether that is on schools, testing or care homes. Boris Johnson’s failure to lead is holding Britain back.”

The move follows several days of sustained pressure after nearly 40% of students in England saw their grades moderated down by the regulator. Data from Ofqual showed that the most disadvantaged were worst-affected by the algorithm.

Thousands of A-Level pupils across England, Wales and Northern Ireland received grades generated by from the exam regulator last week, replacing usual end-of-year exams as schools were closed due to Covid-19.

Over the weekend, Gavin Williamson had rejected criticism and insisted that there would be “no U-turn, no change”. He argued that it would lead to grade inflation and devalue the qualifications.

The system adopted by Ofqual was criticised for relying too much on the previous performance of schools and colleges in modelling results, meaning that young people who did well in historically poorer education settings were marked down.

Chair of Ofqual Roger Taylor issued a statement on the decision this afternoon, confirming that “after reflection, we have decided that the best way to do this is to award grades on the basis of what teachers submitted”.

He said that “we understand this has been a distressing time for students”, but argued that “there was no easy solution to the problem of awarding exam results when no exams have taken place”.

Describing the goal of Ofqual to “protect the trust that the public rightly has in educational qualifications”, he admitted that its approach had “caused real anguish and damaged public confidence”.

Labour had described the grades awarded last week as a “huge injustice” and called on the government to waive fees for schools and colleges appealing results. Ofqual published an appeals process on Saturday before withdrawing it only hours later.

The Welsh government announced earlier this afternoon that it is also abandoning the algorithm used to predict last week’s A-Level results and its students would be receiving grades based on teacher predictions.

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