From education to employment

U-Turn on how GCSE, AS, A- Level and BTEC grades will be awarded this summer.

Roger Taylor, Chair, Ofqual

Chair of @Ofqual announces U-Turn on how #GCSE, AS and #ALevel grades will be awarded this summer 

We understand this has been a distressing time for students, who were awarded exam results last week for exams they never took. The pandemic has created circumstances no one could have ever imagined or wished for. We want to now take steps to remove as much stress and uncertainty for young people as possible – and to free up heads and teachers to work towards the important task of getting all schools open in two weeks.

After reflection, we have decided that the best way to do this is to award grades on the basis of what teachers submitted. The switch to centre assessment grades will apply to both AS and A levels and to the GCSE results which students will receive later this week.

There was no easy solution to the problem of awarding exam results when no exams have taken place. Ofqual was asked by the Secretary of State to develop a system for awarding calculated grades, which maintained standards and ensured that grades were awarded broadly in line with previous years. Our goal has always been to protect the trust that the public rightly has in educational qualifications.

But we recognise that while the approach we adopted attempted to achieve these goals we also appreciate that it has also caused real anguish and damaged public confidence. Expecting schools to submit appeals where grades were incorrect placed a burden on teachers when they need to be preparing for the new term and has created uncertainty and anxiety for students. For all of that, we are extremely sorry.

We have therefore decided that students be awarded their centre assessment for this summer – that is, the grade their school or college estimated was the grade they would most likely have achieved in their exam – or the moderated grade, whichever is higher.

The path forward we now plan to implement will provide urgent clarity. We are already working with the Department for Education, universities and everyone else affected by this issue.

Roger Taylor, Chair, Ofqual

Gavin OMeara 100x100 pixelsIn a media briefing this evening, Gavin O’Meara, CEO, FE News asked Gavin Williamson:

“Do awarding bodies have enough time for a turnaround on this?

“Obviously we’ve got GCSEs coming up plus with what has happened last week, are we giving everyone enough time to be able to have a turnaround on on this, for learners to receive the right details?

Gavin Williamson replied:

“I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all the awarding organisations who have put in so much work into this, and we will work with them to continue to support them in terms of the awarding of grades, whether that’s vocational technical qualifications, or whether that’s GCSEs, A Levels, and AS Levels as well. We believe that by working with them, we’re able to deliver.

Gavin O’Meara also asked:

“250,000 people last week, on Thursday, received their BTEC results, so are you also going to be incorporating BTECs in that as well, is it that you need to be working with Pearson on that?

Gavin Williamson replied:

“We’re working with Pearson on that, we very much want to include them on that, we want to ensure that there’s the maximum amounts of fairness for youngsters right across the board. There’s quite a bit of difference because there’s very little disparity in terms of the assessment of grades for those who took BTECs and other vocational technical qualifications. There’s been a lot less disparity, but we want to see parity right across the board in terms of how this is approached, and that’s what we’re working with Pearson’s on, in order to ensure that that’s the case.

Gavin Williamson 100x100Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said

‘This has been an extraordinarily difficult year for young people who were unable to take their exams.

‘We worked with Ofqual to construct the fairest possible model, but it is clear that the process of allocating grades has resulted in more significant inconsistencies than can be resolved through an appeals process.

‘We now believe it is better to offer young people and parents certainty by moving to teacher assessed grades for both A and AS level and GCSE results.

‘I am sorry for the distress this has caused young people and their parents but hope this announcement will now provide the certainty and reassurance they deserve.’

Sector Response

Tom Bewick July19 100x100Tom Bewick, Chief Executive of the Federation of Awarding Bodies said:

“The announcement today on A-Levels and GCSEs brings clarity and certainty for a generation of students, who through no fault of their own, had their hopes dashed earlier this year by not being able to sit exams. The FAB board called last week for maximum flexibility, as well as encouraged the universities and employers to look beyond just the grades of students. We are pleased that Gavin Williamson has said the cap on HE student numbers will be lifted and that he has formally thanked the hard work of awarding body staff. 

“It is really important to remember that there are thousands of outstanding vocational and technical students who have also picked up their results recently. On the whole, these calculated or adapted results have been received without controversy or complaint. And where there are some CAG related issues (e.g. BTECs), these will be resolved by the relevant awarding organisations, working with Ofqual, very quickly. Finally, I would like to say that it is important on days like today we do not dwell too much on the negatives of what has happened. Over the last 5 months a tremendous amount of positive work and collaboration across the whole education sector has been achieved. Working in a national emergency is always a massive challenge; and future generations will judge us by the character of our resolve in rising to the challenge and doing the best by learners both now and in the future.” 

mary boustedDr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:  

“Gavin Williamson has, finally, done the right thing. The pity is that he has done so having exhausted all other options. Students and their teachers have endured days of completely unnecessary stress and worry. For many students, this announcement will generate further uncertainty if they have been rejected from their first-choice course, and university, on the basis of the inaccurate and unjust Ofqual awarding process. 

“Young people have suffered enough. They have few chances in the jobs market as the country faces rising unemployment and recession. Gavin Williamson should now announce that the cap on university places is lifted, so that more young people, who have worked so hard for their A Levels, can continue their studies and fulfil their potential. 

“One of many lessons for Government to learn from this sorry saga is to listen to the profession. The Department for Education’s determination to put all eggs in one basket through a single set of summer exams has come back to haunt them. It is very much a disaster of their own making.  

“This is a shameful episode. It must never happen again. The u-turn in Scotland includes a long-term review of the assessment methods used to award qualifications, including the possibility of more coursework and systematic, moderated teacher assessment, and it is critical that the same occurs in England.   

“We not only need a careful and systematic review, but an absolute assurance to next year’s GCSE and A-Level students that this cannot and will not happen again.” 

Jo Grady 100x100UCU general secretary Jo Grady said:

‘Too many students have had their futures turned upside down because of the mess caused by this government. Gavin Williamson’s “triple-lock” turned out to be a triple-block on student life chances, locking in inequality. This U-turn is welcome, but we should never have got to this position. The political incompetence is unforgivable and there are still many questions to be answered. If he had listened to us and the other voices calling for him to use teacher predicted grades earlier he could have saved us from a weekend of chaos and confusion.

‘Staff facing unbearable workloads trying to deal with this fiasco have also faced needless cuts and threats of redundancy because of the uncertainty created by the government. It now needs to provide substantial financial support to the sector so that universities can protect all jobs, welcome students safely next term and continue to provide world leading teaching and research.’

david hughes 100 x100David Hughes, Chief Executive, AoC said:

“Many young people have had a torrid time since last Thursday, suffering all sorts of stress and worry. We therefore support this afternoon’s announcement to use Centre Assessed Grades/teacher grades because decisive and urgent action was needed, in the interests of thousands of students who found themselves at the bluntest end of the system. Moving to CAGs is a boost for those students and will allow them to progress in learning and into work. It will be a relief after days of anguish. At the same time, for students anticipating their GCSE results this Thursday it removes much of the anxiety and provides certainty.

“There were too many students being given grades below what they would probably have achieved, particularly for college students compared with their counterparts in independent schools. Because of that we urged Ofqual this morning to stop clinging onto a desire to minimise grade inflation as a way to maintain confidence in the qualifications system and make sure the grades were fair. CAGs helps us achieve that and is a small price to pay for after many students found themselves without a secure plan for the future. This is good for post-16 GCSE English and maths retake students whose prior achievements don’t give a good indication of their likely performance, as it means that the predictions of the teachers who know them best will stand.

“It is vital that information is provided speedily on how this decision will impact on higher education institutions, students wishing to apply through clearing and those who may have been rejected on their original grades. 

“Colleges are looking forward to welcoming new and progressing students over the next few weeks and will continue to work with 16-year-olds to ensure all young people have a suitable place and that the transition to their next step is smooth and stress-free after a tough six months.”

Layla Moran100x100Liberal Democrat Education Spokesperson Layla Moran said:

“Despite the warnings, the Education Secretary’s botched handling of grade awards has left countless young people stressed and anxious. The Prime Minister must show leadership and personally apologise for his Government’s shambles.

“This expected U-turn is victory for common sense and rightly answers calls from Liberal Democrats and others, but it should never have gotten this far.

“While it is embarrassing for the Government, it has been excruciating for students. It is clear the Education Secretary is out of his depth. If he doesn’t walk, he must be pushed. 

“There is still a long way to go to clean up this mess. Government must provide the clarity young people need, including supporting and resourcing universities to ensure all provisional offers are honoured. 

“In addition, Ministers must follow the example of the Welsh Education Minister and commit to an independent review of the process – that’s what transparent and accountable leadership looks like.” 

Nick Hillman100x100Responding to the Government’s announcement on this year’s exam results, Nick Hillman, the Director of the Higher Education Policy Institute (, said:

 “This news will come as a relief to hundreds of thousands of students, their teachers and their parents. U-turns are never easy but sometimes they are better than the alternatives.

“The last few days are a reminder that education is not about delivering the right results on average over a whole year group – it is about recognising individual achievements fairly.

“The new policy is better than the previous one but it will still be a headache for universities. A normal admissions round lasts for months, yet the rules for this year’s round have been torn up just a few weeks before term starts.

“Institutions will do their best but there are some limits on safe expansion. Nonetheless, hopefully the upheaval will be worth it, with more people finding a place on the right course for them.

 “In the cold light of day, there will need to be a careful post-mortem to ensure this year’s fiasco never happens again.”

David Laws 100x100Commenting on today’s decision by the government to revert to centre assessed grades (CAG) for both A levels and GCSEs, David Laws, Executive Chairman of the Education Policy Institute (EPI), said:

“Given the multiple problems that we have experienced with results over the last week, moving to teacher assessed grades for both GCSEs and A levels in England seems to be the fairest and most pragmatic approach.

“Under the previous system it was clear that Ofqual had got the balance wrong, placing too much emphasis on maintaining standards and not enough on ensuring fairness to individual students. Fairness should have always been placed ahead of standards. The government’s U-turn now ensures this by tipping the scales the other way.

“Schools will now breathe a sigh of relief, as they can now focus on the challenge of getting students back into the classroom in September, instead of having to deal with an incoherent and demanding system of appeals.

“The government should immediately establish an independent review of how this year’s results were handled, so that we can learn the lessons for the future and not repeat the many errors that have occurred this year. It should also consider the options for exams in 2021, given next year’s candidates will have already been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic and there remains a chance of further lockdowns.”  

“While the government’s reversal on grades was on balance the correct decision, it is also important to acknowledge that relying solely on teacher assessed grades is not without complications, and may open up another box of problems.

“Universities must now offer maximum flexibility for those A level students who had missed out on a place under the previous grading system. Those students who were originally offered a place under teacher assessed grades should now have their place reinstated or deferred to next year.

“The government can support this by lifting the cap that they have placed on student numbers in higher education this year, but in doing so they will need to be mindful of protecting those institutions that are less in demand and may struggle to recruit in sufficient numbers.

“For GCSE students, the vast majority will choose to remain in education, so increases in student numbers caused by higher grades will have to be managed by the school and college system. The government must offer greater flexibility in the funding system to ensure that schools and colleges have the capacity to take on any additional students.”

Alistair Jarvis100x100Commenting on the announcement from Ofqual and the government in relation to the grading of A-level results, Alistair Jarvis, Chief Executive of Universities UK, said:

“The events and confusion of recent days have added further uncertainty and distress to students who have already faced many difficulties as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. The best interests of students must be the priority, and universities are being as flexible as possible with applicants and will continue to support students to find a suitable university place.”

“Today’s policy change will mean that more students will have the grades that match the offer of their first choice university. This will cause challenges at this late stage in the admissions process – capacity, staffing, placements and facilities – particularly with the social distance measures in place. Universities will do everything they can to work through these issues in the days ahead. The government will need to step up and support universities through the challenges created by this late policy change. We are seeking urgent clarification and advice from government on a number of crucial issues.”

“Almost 70% of students are already placed with their first-choice institution, but those who are not should think carefully about their next steps, speak to their parents, guardians and teachers and get in to contact with their preferred university to advise on their options.”

Tim Bradshaw 100x100Dr Tim Bradshaw, CEO of the Russell Group, said:

 “This has been a very challenging results season and all of our members understand the distress it has created for many young people during what is already a stressful time under the best of circumstances.

 “Our universities have been working hard to be as flexible and compassionate as possible to help students, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, so offer holders are not unfairly affected. We firmly believe that everyone who has the drive and determination to study at university should have the opportunity do so.

 “Many Russell Group universities have increased admissions plans so they can take more students this year and ensure as many young people as possible can benefit from the skills and knowledge that a high quality university education provides. Our universities have accepted students who narrowly missed out on the grades they needed, have held places open for those appealing their results or have been able to guarantee places on courses for the next academic year. UCAS daily clearing data shows that acceptances at higher tariff institutions are higher this year compared to the same time last year.

 “We know the changing situation is creating uncertainty for students and universities. However there are limits to what can be done by the university sector alone to address that uncertainty without stretching resources to the point that it undermines the experience for all, not to mention ensuring students and staff are kept safe as we follow the steps needed to fight the Covid-19 pandemic. There are also practical constraints on capacity for programmes that depend on specialist facilities or placements. 

 “We now need urgent clarification from government on the additional support it will provide to help universities with the expected increases in student numbers, particularly for high cost subjects such as chemistry, medicine and engineering.” 

nicola dandridge100x100Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of the OfS, said:

‘We welcome the certainty that this announcement now gives to students in terms of their A-level results, and that many students will be able to move forward in terms of securing the university places of their choice.

‘We understand that this move brings challenges for universities and colleges, but they should do all they can to make sure that students with the grades and potential to succeed do not miss out on their first choice course.

‘Universities should also continue to honour the commitments that they have already made to support vulnerable and disadvantaged students as they firm up conditional offers. While it is for universities to make individual admissions decisions, students from disadvantaged backgrounds must not be allowed to slip through the net as admissions decisions are made.

‘Now that students have their grades confirmed and their hard work recognised, they can look to consider and finalise their options. Where they now have the grades which would entitle them to their first choice of university or college, they should contact their university to see if they still have places available. This is a fast-moving situation, but I am confident that universities will do all they can to ensure that as many places as possible are made available. Where a course genuinely has not got the capacity to offer a place to a student, the university should discuss reasonable alternatives, including a place on another course or a place on the same course next year.

‘There is a great deal of information available to students as they finalise their choice of course and university for the autumn. Schools and colleges will naturally be the first port of call for many students, while UCAS, universities and colleges will also be able to help. The Discover Uni website provides official independent information to help students with their decision making.

‘This is a challenging time for many students, and as they embark on their courses some will need support to improve their wellbeing and mental health. Wellbeing services at universities are there to assist, while the Student Space website provides information and support.

‘As the regulator, the OfS will continue to oversee the quality of provision offered to students and to protect their interests, especially for those from disadvantaged or vulnerable groups.’

A Pearson spokesperson said:

BTECs are structured very differently to A levels, and so the approach to awarding is also different. BTECs were not subject to the same statistical moderation process as A levels.

“BTECs comprise modular units that students complete and are assessed at regular stages during their course of study, so prior to March 2020, students had already banked graded units for their qualification. As we do every year, this year we asked centres to submit all the grades for the internal assessment units that had been completed as well as any grades for units still to be completed. These were accepted with very little change following quality assurance checks. They then formed part of the evidence, alongside previously completed assessment unit grades, to award grades for the externally assessed units and the final overall qualification grade. 

“For the very small number of grades that were adjusted, we will be reviewing them on a case by case basis with centres following the same principles as those announced today.

“This is why we have seen very stable outcomes for BTEC and other vocational qualifications. As in every year, students unhappy with their final grade can appeal. 

“It has been an incredibly difficult time for students, teachers and colleges. Our priority this summer has always been to ensure students are able to progress to the next stage in their lives – whether education or employment.”

Larissa Kennedy, NUS President, responding to the Government’s U-turn for GCSE and A-Level exams to be awarded on centre assessment grades, said – 

“This victory belongs to every student who told their story, who lobbied the government and who took to the streets in the face of a classist, racist, ableist moderation system. 

“The government have not fixed this mess yet. This situation has merely unmasked a discriminatory system that it has been complicit in long before this year – one that under-funds our schools, colleges and universities meaning that, year on year, education has been a postcode lottery. Every year students have to contend with a university admissions system that establishes additional barriers to entry for already marginalised groups through the use of predicted grades.

“Over the past week working class students, students of colour and disabled students lost hard fought for university places. Many of those students affected have reported that their mental health has been negatively impacted by an assessment system that reproduces educational injustice and the uncertainty this has produced.

“We will not forget this, nor will our efforts stop here. This simply isn’t good enough. We demand #JusticeForEducation in every postcode, every year. That means we need to overhaul our system of exams and grading, so that every student is given a fair chance to succeed & invest in education to end educational injustice once and for all.”

A UCAS spokesperson said: 

“In response to the announcements across the UK regarding the awarding of A levels, UCAS is now working with universities, colleges and schools to support students to understand their options and achieve their place in higher education. 

“At the moment, 69% (193,420) of 18 year old main scheme applicants across the UK are placed with their first choice university, which is higher than at the same point last year

“For those students who were not placed with their firm (or insurance) choice university, our advice is that you don’t need to make your decision immediately.  Speak with your parents, guardians and teachers and then your first conversation will need to be to your firm (or insurance) choice university. Once your university has your ‘Centre Assessed Grades (CAG)’ via exam bodies they can make a decision as to whether there is a place at your preferred choice.

“We will be issuing new advice for students and schools and this will be sent directly to students as soon as they are able to take a decision.

“UCAS is working with Universities UK and the education sector and whilst the decision is with the individual university, we will do everything we can to support students to use their CAGs to secure the best possible outcome.” 

NASUWT General Secretary Dr Patrick Roach, said:

“Young people have faced an enormous amount of uncertainty and anxiety as a result of the Government’s chaotic handling of this summer’s qualification awards.

“The Coronavirus pandemic has created very challenging conditions for students and for schools and colleges, but the Government’s mishandling has undermined public confidence at this critical time.

“No young person should have their future life chances undermined by a set of circumstances outside their control.

“However, at the centre of this latest political storm are young people whose futures have been left unacceptably at the mercy of last-minute decision-making by Ministers.

“The calamity that has been left to unfold over recent days has impacted not only on those young people who were receiving their awards this year, but also the confidence of the thousands of pupils who are now preparing for examinations next year.

“Urgent lessons need to be learned about how to secure a more resilient qualifications system for the future that will give confidence to pupils, parents and teachers, and recognise fairly the achievements of all students.”

Zoe Lewis, principal and chief executive of Middlesbrough College, said:

“We’re pleased that the Government has addressed this issue after serious concerns were raised by students and educators across the country.

“Even amongst the uncertainty of the last few months, our students and staff have worked extremely hard, and we therefore welcome the decision to use teacher-assessed grades in awarding final A-Level results.”

Zoe Lewis added: “It is our firm belief that teacher-assessed grades are a far more accurate reflection of each individual student’s academic achievement, with grade predictions made by our teachers historically highly accurate in relation to final grades.

“Students have told us how much they have valued the support the College has shown them throughout the pandemic, and we’re proud of how hard they’ve worked and how much they’ve achieved over the past few months. We therefore look forward to our students receiving grades that more accurately reflect their achievements.”

Liz Leek, Deputy Principal Culture, Place and Communities, Barnsley College, said:

“This year has seen unprecedented upheaval and change, but our students, supported by our staff, met the challenges head-on. It is only right that their grades are fair; matching their efforts, hard work and predicted results made by those teachers who know them best. We welcome the Government’s decision to revert to teacher assessments for A Level and GCSE results, ensuring that every single student, regardless of their background or where they live, achieves what they deserve. 

“This year, more than ever, the College is supporting and advising students on next steps ensuring that they each receive all the help they need.”

Keir Starmer, Leader of the Labour Party, responding to the Government’s U-turn on exams, said:

“The Government has had months to sort out exams and has now been forced into a screeching U-turn after days of confusion. 

“This is a victory for the thousands of young people who have powerfully made their voices heard this past week.

“However, the Tories’ handling of this situation has been a complete fiasco. 

“Incompetence has become this Government’s watchword, whether that is on schools, testing or care homes. 

“Boris Johnson’s failure to lead is holding Britain back.”

David Seaton, assistant director of admissions and recruitment at the University of Bedfordshire :

“Collectively, higher education institutions need to recognise the great pressure on school leavers at this time and adapt our admissions policy accordingly. A number of universities have already taken steps in this direction which includes placing greater weight on personal statements and references. At the University of Bedfordshire, we have since announced that we will allow students to use their teacher predicted grades and mock exam results.

“There are numerous issues with the grading this year, principally because of the algorithm. A school that had never run a given A-level course could find itself delivering more top grades, simply because there is no historical data for the algorithm to use to weigh down the predictions. The problems go deeper than the algorithm though. Some students are strong finishers, and would have performed much better than their predictions if they had been able to sit exams.

“Overall the best way out of this situation is flexibility, recognising the extraordinary circumstances of this year and trusting teachers’ judgement.”

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