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A-level students celebrate outside the Department of Education in London after it was confirmed that candidates in England will be given grades estimated by their teachers.
A-level students celebrate outside the Department of Education in London after it was confirmed that candidates in England will be given grades estimated by their teachers.
Image: PA

'I am ecstatic': A-level students share relief after u-turn on grading of exam results

Grades will now be based on teachers’ assessments rather than a controversial algorithm.
Aug 18th 2020, 6:00 AM 13,941 3

A-LEVEL STUDENTS IN England have shared their delight after a u-turn on the grading of exam results turned despair over their futures into hope once more.

Following criticism from students, headteachers and a backlash by Tory MPs, grades will now be based on teachers’ assessments rather than the controversial algorithm devised by regulator Ofqual.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Education Secretary Gavin Williamson had previously defended the “robust” system, which saw almost 40% of grades reduced from teachers’ predictions. The change will also apply to GCSE results in England, which are due to be released on Thursday.

“My heart is beating so fast,” said student Alaa Muhammad, who had faced missing out on her dream of studying medicine in Pakistan after being downgraded.

She told the PA news agency: “I am ecstatic, I am so so happy. I was so hopeless a couple of days ago and now I feel like I can finally breathe again.”

Muhammad, from south-east England, had seen her grades fall from a predicted ABB to EDD due to the heavily criticised algorithm.

The stark drop saw her post an emotional plea on Twitter to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson.

“I deserve to know why you have ruined my chance at life,” she wrote.

Muhammad told PA she had paid more than £2,000 to take resits at a private college after her studies in year 12 and 13 were disrupted. She now hopes she will be able to find a university place after all.

Inequality

Jess Johnson, 18, last year won an Orwell Youth Prize for a piece of dystopian fiction about an algorithm that sorted students into bands based on class.

When she first received the A-level results dictated by the algorithm, Johnson faced losing out on a £16,000 scholarship and believed she had “fallen into my own story”.

“I wrote about it because I saw the educational inequality in the UK was there, but now it’s physically being enforced by an algorithm,” she told PA.

However, after the change in policy to use teachers’ assessments, she will get the A she needed in English to fulfil the terms of her initial offer at St Andrew’s.

“I’m very excited about that, I’m glad they made the change,” said Johnson, who studied at Ashton Sixth Form College in Greater Manchester.

“I think it would have been unfair if (Northern) Ireland, Scotland and Wales made the change and we didn’t, so I’m very glad.”

‘Rubbish’

Student Thomas Jukes, who had missed out on a place to study medicine at the University of Birmingham, questioned why the “rubbish algorithm” was used in the first place.

“I’m much more pleased now I have got my centre-assessed grades. It’s just dependent now on whether my places have been held,” Jukes, 18, from Great Barr in Birmingham told PA.

“If they managed to turn around in four days and say, ‘well, you can just have your centre-assessed grades’, it wouldn’t have been that much hassle in the first place, would it?

“I think they put a lot of time and effort into this rubbish algorithm, which has been a monumental failure, to just literally give us what the teachers predicted us anyway.”

Muhammad was in agreement, adding: “They had four months to think of this.

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“They should have thought every situation through. It was extremely unprofessional of them to follow suit to other countries instead of creating a system that would have been realistically fair.”

Leaving Certificate

In Northern Ireland, Stormont’s Education Minister also announced GCSE students would be awarded grades calculated by their teachers. 

There are concerns that the system for results for Leaving Certificate students in the Republic could run into similar issues. Instead of sitting for exams, students ill be assessed by their teachers, coupled with a controversial ‘standardisation’ by the Department of Education.

The department has stressed that teacher assessments, and the progress of students between Junior Cert, fifth class, and their current standard, will be an important influence on students’ final Calculated Grades.

The Department of Education confirmed to TheJournal.ie that students would be able to view their Calculated Grade broken down into the teacher-assessed grade and ranking.

“The results of the Calculated Grades will issue to students via the Calculated Grades Student Portal and simultaneously to schools on Monday, 7 September 2020,” it said.

“On Monday 14 September the student portal will open for appeal applications and at that time all students will be able to see a record of their individual estimated percentage mark and ranking assigned to them by their school.

“This provides full transparency over the process and will also assist students who are unhappy with their calculated grade in making a decision as to whether or not to appeal their grades.”

- With reporting by Michelle Hennessy and Gráinne Ní Aodha. 

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