On Wednesday the 12th August NSEAD called for education ministers across the UK to urgently review arrangements which prioritised a technical application of ‘national standards' over the interests of young people. Today the Government administrations of Wales, Northern Ireland and England have all followed Scotland in accepting that statistical models of standardisation have resulted in unacceptable levels of unfairness, uncertainty, and disproportionate impact on those least privileged.
All students receiving GCSE, AS, A level qualifications this year will be awarded the Centre assessed grades submitted to exam boards by their teachers OR their moderated grade, depending which is higher. Chair of Ofqual Roger Taylor's statement is here.
Where BTEC or VTQ qualifications have been affected by the application of an algorithm, examining bodies have been asked to review and re-issue grades. More information here
Gavin Williamson has apologised for the distress caused to young people.
This was the right thing to do.
However, the time taken to reach this decision, the chaotic communications and failures of leadership that left young people in limbo for five days cannot be excused. It is not acceptable to blame Ofqual – they operate under the direction of the DFE; it is Government ministers who must take responsibility for this debacle. Confidence in our education system has been severely damaged. Whilst this change of course is entirely welcome, it will take much more than a change of heart to dispel deep distrust.
The lack of a coherent approach across the four nations resulted in a five-day state of paralysis reminiscent of a ‘high noon’standoff. Were ministers at the DFE really waiting to see who would blink first, before finally making their announcement? The failure of the four nations to work together has contributed to the shambolic, uncoordinated shambles. The Minister for Education in Northern Ireland Peter Weir talks of the importance of portability and compatibility of qualifications if young people are to access opportunities across the UK. This is a fundamental principle that must be observed. Can ministers reassure us that concerted efforts will be made to avoid a repeat of this fractured (and fractious) division?
Amidst the celebration, young people are asking why this happened and are still seeking answers.
The vacuum of coherent leadership and lack of direction has meant that universities have not had a coherent approach to holding student offers – five days absence from the clearing process will have disadvantaged many young people. Others have accepted second choice offers, when they should automatically have been given their first choice. How will this be untangled?
Teachers, school leaders and University staff have already faced unacceptable levels of stress and administrative burden at a time when they are preparing for the full re-opening of schools. Unlike colleagues in Scotland, where a revised decision and change in course was swiftly made, schools in England, Northern Ireland and Wales faced a torrid week of anxiety and disappointment. It is essential that arrangements going forward do not place any additional burden on school staff, and that Universities are supported to make this right.
And we must not forget those BTEC students who, five days on are still awaiting their result. A number of BTEC students still await their results, due to technical issues with exam board Pearson. Students awaiting results of Cambridge Technicals, awarded by OCR are experiencing the same delays. These students, many of whom are the least privileged, are potentially the biggest losers of all, scrambling for whatever university places are left. Government must work with Universities must act to ensure that this is not allowed to happen. Further information here
If there is to be one positive outcome of this shameful episode, it may be that it has shone a light on the examination system and the lack of resilience in an education system so heavily weighted towards terminal high stakes assessment. There is a greater understanding amongst students, parents and even teachers of the process of standardisation and the inadequacy of exams to fully recognise that most precious thing – potential.
We must not allow this to happen again – we must now question the future of a system that cannot withstand shock. Our young people deserve better.