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‘Confusion, upset and uncertainty’ - Pressure mounts over downgraded A-level results

PUBLISHED: 18:03 14 August 2020 | UPDATED: 18:03 14 August 2020

Many students are considering appealing after seeing A-level results downgraded. Picture: PA Images

Many students are considering appealing after seeing A-level results downgraded. Picture: PA Images

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Pressure is mounting on the Government over its handling of the exams system after thousands of pupils had their A-level results downgraded.

Students at Norwich School receive their A-Level results. Picture: Joe Giddens/PA WireStudents at Norwich School receive their A-Level results. Picture: Joe Giddens/PA Wire

The cancellation of exams due to the pandemic, meant grades were awarded on the basis of a controversial system involving teachers’ estimates, the ranking order of pupils and previous results at schools and colleges.

England’s exam regulator Ofqual said it was forced to downgrade thousands of A-level results owing to “implausibly high” predictions submitted by teachers following the cancellation of exams.

Almost four in 10 students saw teachers’ estimates for their grades had been adjusted down by one grade or more. It has left many students with agonising choices on whether to appeal their grades and whether the results will impact their university places.

Wymondham College pupil Lisandra Hancke who saw her A-level results downgraded. Picture: Lindi HanckeWymondham College pupil Lisandra Hancke who saw her A-level results downgraded. Picture: Lindi Hancke

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer called on ministers to waive A-level appeal fees and return to teacher assessments as “the best option available”.

“Across the last 24 hours the scale of the injustice has become clear,” he said. “Young people and parents right across the country, in every town and city, feel let down and betrayed.”

MORE: ‘Disgraceful’ - teachers and students unhappy at downgraded A-levels

Among those affected in Norfolk were Miles Burford, 18, who missed out on a place to study sport and exercise psychology at Loughborough University.

Students at Norwich School receive their A-Level results. Picture: Joe Giddens/PA WireStudents at Norwich School receive their A-Level results. Picture: Joe Giddens/PA Wire

He had been predicted an A in PE, a B or an A in psychology and a C in history but got C, D and U.

He said: “I was shocked by the results. They do not represent my true ability. I’m so grateful to have a back-up place at Lincoln.”

His mother Kylie Burford told the Guardian: “His school, Notre Dame High School, told me this morning they have received the lowest set of results in their history this year.

Norwich student Miles Burford was given grades at least two below predictions. Picture: Miles BurfordNorwich student Miles Burford was given grades at least two below predictions. Picture: Miles Burford

“Miles was due to play football for Loughborough, and was considered good enough to join their international Futsal team and have the opportunity to represent the country – those opportunities have been whipped away from him by an algorithm.”

Tom Pinnington, head of school at Notre Dame, said while many of its students had been awarded the grades that they deserved, some “have not been awarded grades that truly reflect their ability, work ethic or potential exam performance”.

He said downgraded students will be the “focus of our support over the next few days”.

Wisbech Grammar headmaster Chris Staley. Picture: Wisbech Grammar SchoolWisbech Grammar headmaster Chris Staley. Picture: Wisbech Grammar School

Lindi Hancke said her daughter Lisandra, a student at Wymondham College, had seen her teacher assessed three A grades downgraded, though she was still accepted to study biology and psychology at her first choice university.

She said: “Lisandra worked hard throughout to ensure her triple A exam result. These marks will be with her for the rest of her life.

“Our A-level students seem to have so many disappointments this year some can’t be controlled but it feels as though this last blow was a bit unnecessary.”

A third of students have seen A-Level results downgraded. Picture: Andrew Matthews/PA WireA third of students have seen A-Level results downgraded. Picture: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

MORE: Schools celebrate highfliers amid grading disputes

Education secretary Williamson has ruled out following the lead of Scotland and allowing teacher assessed marks to be accepted saying the Ofqual system has looks at the whole performance to “maintain standards” and ensure results “carry credibility”.

However the Department for Education announced an 11th hours “triple lock” meaning pupils’ grades would be the highest from estimated grades, mocks or exams taken in the autumn.

Chris Staley, headmaster at Wisbech Grammar School, which had students downgraded, said: “There are pupils who are disappointed with their grades and many, both in and outside of education, do not understand how on one hand the Government can offer pupils the option to take their mock forward if they are unhappy with their actual grade - something set and assessed by their teachers - but the same teachers who used mock grades plus a surfeit of additional data to produce a centrally assessed grade have had this disregarded. It has led to nothing other than confusion, upset and uncertainty.”

Professor Richard Harvey, UEA  director of admissions. Picture: Richard HarveyProfessor Richard Harvey, UEA director of admissions. Picture: Richard Harvey

The University of East Anglia said many A-level students could appeal their results, but how the process would impact on admissions for the new academic year from September 12 is still unclear.

Prof Richard Harvey, UEA academic director of admissions, said: “We always knew there were going to be injustices in the system Ofqual produced. The late intervention by Mr Williamson has been very unhelpful because he has raised the possibility of appeal for hundreds and hundreds of students.

MORE: A-level results - what next for students?

“It’s a pretty desperate situation for people. A pretty substantial number contacting us are thinking of appealing their grades on the basis of their mocks. Students are asking us what the process is if they do appeal, we don’t know. We know it will take 42 days for an appeal, but that takes us past September 12.”

Geoff Barton, former Bury St Edmunds headteacher and general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “We would encourage universities to show some flexibility about applications, and not to undermine the appeals process by insisting students must defer.

“These are unique circumstances in which students who were on course for places and have not had an opportunity to sit exams are at risk of losing out because of a statistical algorithm used to calculate their grades. They deserve a spirit of generosity.”


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