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A-levels: Minister must stop making it up on the hoof and put students first, says union

The University and College Union (UCU) said ministers had to stop trying to pull a rabbit out of the hat to fix the A-levels fiasco and keep things simple.

The union said ministers should use teacher predictions, as happened in Scotland, to level the playing and put students first. Relying on schools’ past performance will hit pupils from the poorest areas the hardest. In Scotland, 124,000 exams were downgraded and pass rates for pupils in deprived areas went down by 15.2% compared to just 6.9% in affluent areas.

UCU said last-minute efforts from secretary of state Gavin Williamson to try and resolve things – such as the “triple lock” and suggesting different start times to the academic year – were only adding to the chaos and confusion.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said:

‘Pupils should be congratulated for their hard work in unprecedented circumstances and deserve better than this mess. Ministers were warned this would happen, but pressed ahead anyway.

‘The secretary of state making things up as he goes along is helping nobody. His last minute triple lock brought another set of complications and likely appeals, and talking about delayed starts for some students now is just adding to the chaos and confusion.

‘The government needs to accept it has got this badly wrong, stop trying to pull a rabbit out of the hat and keep things simple by using teacher predictions – as happened in Scotland.

‘If the government is now saying – after months of UCU calling for it – that we need to delay the start of term for some students, then it needs to provide a substantial funding package so that no jobs are lost and so universities can properly support students.

‘Universities have been needlessly making cuts and threatening redundancies because of the uncertainty created by the government. Without substantial government support, any delayed start will simply create further chaos for students and unbearable workloads for staff.’

UCU general secretary Jo Grady hosted a webinar this evening at 6pm looking at the impact of Covid-19 on the education system. Joined by NUS president Larissa Kennedy and Unison assistant general secretary Roger McKenzie they considered issues such as the downgrading of exam results, safety concerns about a return to campus and the impact of job cuts.

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