Major announcement on exams expected at 4pm as No10 hints results algorithm will be ditched

TORY MPs and ministers have been told to expect an announcement on the exams shambles at 4pm today as the PM is under pressure to u-turn and give kids teacher-predicted grades for A-levels and GCSEs.

Boris Johnson held a call with the Education Secretary and other senior officials this morning – ahead of an expected announcemnt later today as anger grows from all sides.

⚠️ Read our GCSE and A-levels live blog for the latest news & updates


The PM – who broke off from his holiday in Scotland this week to take the call – is facing fury from his party and students across the country after many got lower than expected A-level grades when exams were cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

It's understood an announcement will be made this afternoon.

MPs and ministers have hinted today a u-turn will be on the cards – but it's not yet clear how kids' grades will be changed.

No10 repeatedly refused to rule out whether the system would be ripped up this lunchtime, but stressed that GCSE grades would be coming out on Thursday as planned.

The PM has confidence in the Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, and the head of exams regulator Ofqual despite the chaos.

The Government has stood firm by its choice to use a computer result to adjust the grades from teachers – which many have said were too optimistic.

A staggering 39 per cent of A levels were downgraded by a computer algorithm last week.

And on Thursday the exact same thing is feared to happen when kids receive their GCSE results.

The DfE and Ofqual are in talks today to try and resolve the crisis.

It came as:

  • No10 denied that GCSE grades would be delayed later this week after the shambles last week
  • Scorned students have mounted a flood of legal challenges against their botched A Level grades
  • More Tory MPs came out to hit out at the Government's handling of the crisis
  • Heads warned that the system was "completely unfit for purpose" and that A-level grades are now lower than the three year average
  • It was reported that Ofqual want to u-turn and use teacher grades, but the Government are holding firm
  • Teachers said the reopening of schools in September could be delayed over the huge task of appealing for thousands of kids

GROWING TORY REBELLION

Tory MPs – including current serving ministers – rounded on the Government for the shambles.

Paymaster General and Cabinet Office minister Penny Mordaunt said she was "seeking a further meeting today" with the Department for Education after speaking with students and parents about exam results.

"I will be supporting colleges in their appeals, working to ensure those who have the grades on appeal can go to uni this year if that is what they want," she tweeted.

"This group of young people have lost out on so much already, we must ensure that bright, capable students can progress on their next step. Delaying a year won't be an option, and it shouldn't be an option. For many it will mean falling out of education."

Ms Mordaunt added: "I have also made my views on GCSE results known to DfE. Will be posting updates later today."

And defence minister Johnny Mercer said today he was "concerned" for GCSE results on Thursday and there were "injustices" taking place with regards to exams.

He wrote on Facebook: "As someone who spends so much time in the schools and colleges in my constituency, and someone who strives endlessly to improve opportunities for young people from Plymouth, you can imagine my views, which I have made very clear within Government."

He hinted that the Goernment were about to back down in the face of uproar, adding: "I do not believe this is the end of the story – there are too many clear injustices.

"At this time we must not panic, and await developments. I am limited in what I can say publicly – I have had many private conversations." 

Tory former minister Stephen Hammond called the whole thing a "shambles".

He called for Ofqual to get the appeals process sorted by the end of the day so pupils can find out what they need to do as soon as possible.

Mr Hammond, the MP for Wimbledon, told Sky News: "These young people are not an exam board number, they are real people who deserve fairness and a chance to have their futures put in a solid position very quickly."

And he suggested that delaying GCSE results day "probably is the right thing to do".

Tory peer and ex education secretary Lord Baker lashed the “flawed” algorithm used to dish out results.

He said: “If you are in a hole, stop digging.

"I urge the Education Secretary to instruct Ofqual not to release the GCSE results this Thursday as their algorithm is flawed. The A-level results have produced hundreds of thousands of unfair and barely explicable downgrades.”

Robert Syms told Times Radio this morning: "We watched Scotland and the SNP get into trouble, and they sort of got into a bit of a hole. And they got out of it and took some criticism.

"And we've just climbed into the same hole, but we're not getting out of it; we're still digging at the moment."

He added that he would be "happy" for GCSE students to be awarded their teacher-assessed grades and that "most Conservative MPs would be".

His own son had his grades marked down, he revealed.

"There is real risk of Tory MPs going on the warpath," he warned.

Former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith said the algorithm-awarded A-level grades should be abandoned, with teacher assessments or mocks used instead.

"No algorithm is going to sort our problem out, it's a human issue," he told LBC Radio.

"The idea that you have an algorithm to figure out what they might have done in an exam is really impossible and I think that's where the big mistakes will be made."

Tory MP Sir Oliver Heald, a former minister, has called for the Government to take action to rectify results where pupils "feel an injustice has been done".

In a statement, the North East Hertfordshire MP said: "It seems that the Ofqual algorithm is a blunt instrument and has adversely affected schools and colleges with large sixth forms.

"I am pressing the Government to urgently make changes to the system and am also advising all students to work with their schools and colleges on appeals where they feel an injustice has been done."

Veteran Tory Sir Edward Leigh has written to Education Minister Nick Gibb about the "clear injustice" faced by some A-level students.

The Gainsborough MP said: "I am concerned that some hardworking pupils have been downgraded because this year's results are based on last year's."

He said he had asked Mr Gibb to "reconsider" the Government's approach and "allow teachers' assessments to be used when there is clear injustice".

One Tory MP told The Sun the crisis is “not quite a poll tax moment” but is making the government “look incompetent”.

Anne Longfield, the children's commissioner also came out today to urge change.

She said: “Having looked at the evidence, it seems clear to me that GCSE results this year should be based on centre assessment grades – not the algorithm developed by Ofqual.”

Tory MPs speaking out about the exam shambles

  1. Robert Syms
  2. Edward Leigh
  3. Penny Morduant (current minister)
  4. Oliver Heald (former minister)
  5. Stephen Hammond (former minister)
  6. Laurence Robertson
  7. Lucy Allan
  8. David Davis
  9. Iain Duncan Smith
  10. Tracey Crouch
  11. Robert Halfon (Education committee chair)
  12. Caroline Nokes
  13. Huw Merriman
  14. Sally-Ann Hart
  15. Tim Loughton
  16. Jake Berry (former minister)
  17. Sir Graham Brady (1922 committee chairman)

Yesterday Ofqual published its guidelines for how to appeal – but swiftly took them down after it emerged they contradicted the Government's own policy on which grade could be used.

As of this morning they still haven't republished the guidance, and kids are left in the dark about how to get their marks changed.

No Government ministers have been on the radio or TV today to explain the position as critics rounded on Education Secretary Gavin Williamson.

Former Ofsted boss Sir Micheal Wilshaw says the shambles is a "terrible situation" and a "farce".

He told the BBC Radio 4 programme: "Ofqual have got to work much more closely with Government. It's completely wrong that the Gov, DFE and Ofqual are not singing from the same hymn sheet, especially on appeals.

"Ofqual have got to get their act together and be much more visible."

NORTHERN IRELAND BACK DOWN

Just days before they are meant to get their results, politicians in Northern Ireland announced they would ditch the computer model for GCSEs, after the huge fallout from A-level results last week.

Peter Weir, the education minister, said the decision would not delay the results and that there wasn't enough data about GCSEs in order to use the computer model.

He said today: "These are exceptional circumstances and in exceptional times truly difficult decisions are made.

"I am conscious that for GCSEs, unlike at A-level, we do not have system level prior performance data for this group of young people.

"I want to encourage as many young people as possible to remain in education or training post-16 and to know they have another opportunity to engage with education.

"I am also mindful that unlike A-level, many GCSE pupils will not have access to previous public examination outcomes to inform any appeals process.

"I have, therefore, acted now in advance of the publication of GCSE results to ease anxieties, reassure young people and their families and ensure that every individual candidate receives a grade that recognises the work they have done."

LEGAL ACTION THREAT

Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham is to write to England's exams regulator to initiate legal action over the A-level results process.

He tweeted on Monday: "So it looks like the Government ARE digging in and standing by their deeply flawed system.

"In that case, I will be taking legal advice this morning and have instructed leading Counsel. I expect to be writing to Ofqual later today to initiate action."

Scorned students have mounted a flood of legal challenges against their botched A Level grades too.

Curtis Parfitt-Ford told the BBC today: "We are confident that what this algorithm is doing is grading schools and not students.

"Which we think goes outside of Ofqual's statutory remit.

"We are confident we have a strong case. We hope we won't have to take it to court, but if we do, we are ready to do so."

They have also raised £24,000 through crowdfunding to help with the case.



GAV UNDER PRESSURE

And Labour big beast and ex Education Secretary Alan Johnson told The Sun that Mr Williamson should be sacked.

He said: “This job was totally beyond his capabilities. He should go. "They may try to blame it all on Ofqual, but this was Gavin Williamson’s mess and he has to take the bullet.”

The Department for Education has insisted that results had to be moderated to stop grade inflation going off the scale.

A Downing Street source insisted the PM does still have confidence in Mr Williamson.

OFQUAL REBELLION

It comes as some Ofqual board members reportedly want controversial algorithm results overturned and replaced with predicted grades, the Telegraph reported.

Sources said some members of the Ofqual board believe the algorithm has caused a "haemorrhaging" of public opinion on qualifications.

The board members reportedly want to U-turn and use teachers' predicted grades for students, as happened in Scotland.

MPs have also called for Prime Minister Boris Johnson to step in and end the "unfairness" related to grades, The Times reported.

Using the predicted grades instead of the algorithm is reportedly seen as the "least bad option".

"We are in a position where it is politically unacceptable to continue with the algorithm – this is the view of some people on the Ofqual board," a source told the Telegraph.


AVERAGE GRADES DOWN

Bill Watkin, chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges Association, told BBC Breakfast that, according to a study by the organisation, the "algorithm has failed".

He said: "We've just done a study and we looked at 65,000 entries, which is almost half of all the A-level entries in sixth-form colleges, across 41 A-level subjects – every single A-level subject.

"In every single one of those 65,000 entries in 41 A-level subjects, they came out lower than the previous three-year average. So the algorithm has failed."

Steve Chalke, founder of the Oasis Academy Trust, has called for GCSE results to be postponed.

Mr Chalke told the BBC:: "I think there should be a delay.

"I think there should be an apology for the A-levels, a humble apology, and I think that there should be a delay around the GCSEs because it is better to reflect on what has happened, for Ofqual and for the Government to reflect and then respond having consulted with people outside of their own systems, with senior educationalists, rather than react and then regret, and then withdraw and then put a plan forward etc.

"After reflection, it may be decided it is the best possible answer that we're left with, but let's not make all the same mistakes over the GCSEs."

Grammar school headteacher Kay Mountfield said schools like hers have seen "85% of their student cohort downgraded".

The head of Sir William Borlase's Grammar School in Marlow, Buckinghamshire, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that most of their kids had their grades marked down.

She said:"Only 38 students out of 220 have kept their grades. Eighteen were downgraded by three grades, 74 by two grades and they're scrabbling about for university places that just aren't there.

"Seventy of my students have not had their first choice of university – normally that would be about five, or 10 maybe, students. But I have 70 grammar school students, from a range of backgrounds, who have worked very hard for their grades, struggling to get into universities."

A Department for Education spokesperson said last night: “Hundreds of thousands of students have received a calculated grade that will enable them progress to the next stage of their education or into work.

“We have been clear that we want to build as much fairness into the appeals process as possible to help young people in the most difficult cases and have been working with Ofqual to achieve that.

"Ofqual continues to consider how to best deliver the appeals process to give schools and pupils the clarity they need."

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