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‘Exams mess apology is an insult’ - Student hits out after grading U-turn

PUBLISHED: 12:29 18 August 2020 | UPDATED: 13:01 18 August 2020

Students march to the constituency office of their local MP Gavin Williamson, who is also the Education Secretary, as a protest over A level results. Picture: Jacob King/PA Wire

Students march to the constituency office of their local MP Gavin Williamson, who is also the Education Secretary, as a protest over A level results. Picture: Jacob King/PA Wire

A Norfolk student has slammed the government’s handling of exams that has left many scrambling for university places.

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 Government announced a U-turn on Monday when it said students would be able to receive grades based on their teachers’ estimates following anger over the downgrading of thousands of A-level grades.

Reepham College student Cas Bourke, 18, feared missing out on the dream of studying sociology and criminology at Sheffield University after receiving grades lower than needed. Under the algorithm she received Bs in sociology and English literature and a C in history.

“I was shocked as it was less than what I was expecting,” she said. “To get into the course my firm choice was ABB, and my insurance was BBB, so looking at the grades I got I was ‘oh Christ’ because I wasn’t in university.

Education secretary Gavin Williamson in his office following the announcement that A-level and GCSE results in England will now be based on teachers' assessments of their students. Picture: Stefan Rousseau/PA WireEducation secretary Gavin Williamson in his office following the announcement that A-level and GCSE results in England will now be based on teachers' assessments of their students. Picture: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

“But when I went to UCAS they had upgraded by choice to an unconditional offer, which a lot of my friends also got. I think universities were kind of anticipating this which makes you wonder why the government didn’t see this coming.”

MORE: All A-level and GCSE pupils to get teacher assessed grades

The uncertainty following the cancellation of exams in March had made it “an incredibly difficult time” for students who were also hit by changes to how GCSEs were awarded two years ago, she said.

“One of my friends was absolutely devastated by his results,” she added. “The U-turn has been a relief because he has got into his university place now, but for those who have already had their offers withdrawn or lost places on courses that are now already full, what happens to them?”

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 both A-level and GCSE grades were to be awarded on the basis of an algorithm, put in place by exams regulator Ofqual, involving teachers’ estimates, pupil ranking and schools and colleges previous results.

Almost 40pc of A-level students who received their results last week saw their grades adjusted down by one grade or more.

Education secretary Gavin Williamson insisted Ofqual “didn’t deliver” the grading system that the Government had “reassured” would be in place.

Alanah Saunders who saw her A-level results downgraded. Picture: Alanah SaundersAlanah Saunders who saw her A-level results downgraded. Picture: Alanah Saunders

“I’m incredibly sorry for the distress that it’s caused for those young people, but it was still the right thing to do to make those changes yesterday,” he told Sky News.

Cas said: “Boris is blaming Williamson, Williamson is blaming Ofqual, but at the end of the day it is students, universities and teachers who have suffered from this mess.

“We have gotten an apology but that doesn’t cut it. It is kind of insulting. Apologising for the distress that it has caused rather than outlining exactly what has happened and what they failed to do really minimises the situation. It’s a display of incompetence.”

MORE: What does the exams U-turn mean for A-level and GCSE students?

Another Norfolk student, Lucas, told Radio Norfolk: “I think this U-turn could have happened a lot earlier, especially with GCSEs out this week, and would have saved people quite a lot of grief with regards to university places.

“It was an immense sigh of relief when this announcement was made but also for others I know had they had the predicted grades they’ve now got they would have been able to get into their first choice uni on the course of their dreams. Now they are not able to do that or they have been declined by every university and have been left in limbo.”

Alanah Saunders, 18, an art student at East Norfolk Sixth Form College, wrote to Broadland MP Jerome Mayhew to highlight the “unfair treatment” students had received.

She was shocked to receive a lower B grade which had been calculated using the algorithm despite no-one having seen her artwork.

But with a place to study a foundation art degree at East Norfolk secured, she still felt lucky compared to others.

She said: “I have many friends in similar and worse situations, who are now struggling to get into universities that are issuing rejections before information about appeals has even been released.

“I fully understand the difficulties of navigating these uncertain times but how could the government defend an algorithm which is only 60pc accurate and is ruining many young peoples futures, and undermining their hard work?”


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