Government scraps all algorithmic grades for A-levels and GCSEs

Written by Alain Tolhurst on 19 August 2020 in News

Education secretary and head of Ofqual apologise as English students join peers from the rest of the UK in having their awarded grades scrapped

Credit: Danny Lawson/PA Wire/PA Images

The controversial algorithm used to calculate this summer’s A-level and GCSE grades across England has been ditched and replaced by teacher assessments following major backlash.

In a statement on Monday afternoon the exam regulator Ofqual said “after reflection” it has decided the best way forward is “to award grades on the basis of what teachers submitted”.

After admitting it has “caused real anguish and damaged public confidence”, students will either get the result they were predicted "or the moderated grade, whichever is higher".

Its chairman Roger Taylor said: “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.”

He added: “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.”

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It follows the decision by the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish governments in scrapping the moderated grades, after accusations they were unfairly affecting pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. In Scotland, some critics labelled the computer modelling process used to award grades a “deprivation algorithm”.

And there had been a growing backlash from senior Tory MPs against the computer-generated grades handed out to A-level students last week after exams were cancelled due to coronavirus.

Education secretary Gavin Williamson, who is facing pressure to resign over the fiasco, 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."

Ofqual chief Taylor added in his statement: “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.”

He added: “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.”

In response to the news Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer 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.”


About the author

Alain Tolhurst is chief reporter for PublicTechnology sister publication PoliticsHome, where this story first appeared. He tweets as @Alain_Tolhurst.


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