Keir Starmer has called on ministers to perform a major “Scottish government-style U-turn” over A-levels and mark those students who were downgraded on Thursday according to the grades predicted for them by their teachers.
As he escalated his criticism of England’s exam marking system following an angry backlash from pupils and teachers, Sir Keir urged the government to scrap a “fatally flawed” system after almost 40 per cent of A-level grades were marked down from what the students’ own teachers had predicted.
He called for an “urgent technical review” of the standardisation process, which is overseen by exams regulator Ofqual, ahead of GCSE result being published next week.
After exams were cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, results were calculated by an algorithm based on teacher predictions and moderated according to factors such as the performance of a school and pupils’ previous attainment.
Sir Keir called on ministers to follow the example of the Scottish government, which announced on Tuesday that almost 75,000 secondary school pupils would have their results upgraded to teachers’ estimates of how they would have performed if they had sat exams.
“The unprecedented and chaotic circumstances created by the UK government’s mishandling of education during recent months mean that a return to teacher assessments is now the best option available,” Sir Keir said. “No young person should be at a detriment due to government incompetence.
“Time is running out. We need action in days, not weeks. That also means an urgent technical review of the standardisation model ahead of GCSE results next week. We need to end this fiasco.”
The National Education Union, which represents teachers, has also called for England to follow the lead of ministers in Scotland.
“The Scottish government realised it had made a mistake, apologised and promised to put it right. Gavin Williamson has apologised and promised to put things right, but his solution causes more problems than it solves,” Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU said.
“We are now, at the eleventh hour, dealing with a crisis which should never have arisen. The only solution is to award students the grades their teachers — who know them better than any computer data prediction — think they would have achieved.”
Sir Keir accused schools minister Nick Gibb of “grossly misleading” students after he suggested earlier this week that any downgrades “will be by just one grade”.
Ofqual data revealed 39 per cent of all A-level results in England — about 280,000 — were adjusted downwards from teachers’ predictions. The vast majority were reduced by a single grade, but 3.5 per cent were cut by two or more.
Think-tanks warned that it appeared pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds had been worst-hit. But the prime minister Boris Johnson defended the system on Thursday, insisting it had been designed to prevent unwarranted grade inflation.
Ofqual has said if grades submitted by teachers were accepted without moderation, overall grades would have increased 12 per cent compared to the previous year.
Sir Chris Husbands, vice-president of Sheffield Hallam University, expressed support for the Scottish government’s approach of adopting predicted grades.
“The government seems to have decided the worst thing that could happen this year was that some students who should have got a B would get an A”, he said.
“In the middle of a pandemic — a plague year — work out what you’re worried about. If as a result of these grades there are large numbers of students who aren’t getting a university place — what are they going to do?”