First News - - FRONT PAGE - by Ian Eddy

THE voices of young peo­ple were heard loud and clear this week, as North­ern Ire­land, Wales and then Eng­land all de­cided to award GCSEs and A Lev­els based on grades pre­dicted by teach­ers, af­ter Scot­land did the same thing a week ago.

There were huge protests af­ter A Level re­sults were re­leased and it be­came clear that many stu­dents felt cheated by the com­puter pro­gram used to award grades this year.

The Gov­ern­ment and exam reg­u­la­tors thought it was the fairest way to award grades af­ter ex­ams were called off be­cause of the pan­demic, but many pupils saw their marks drop by sev­eral grades. The down­grades par­tic­u­larly af­fected pupils from dis­ad­van­taged ar­eas, as the marks were ad­justed partly based on a school’s past per­for­mance.

“We un­der­stand this has been a dis­tress­ing time for stu­dents,” said Roger Taylor, head of exam reg­u­la­tor Ofqual, be­fore adding that he was “ex­tremely sorry”. The apol­ogy may be too late for some stu­dents who were re­jected from their first choice of uni­ver­sity.

Sarah Han­nafin, se­nior pol­icy ad­vi­sor at the Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Head Teach­ers (NAHT), told us that the sit­u­a­tion was “re­ally hard to jus­tify” and that the Gov­ern­ment and Ofqual have no plan B for next year, if ex­ams can’t go ahead as sched­uled. “It ig­nores the pos­si­bil­ity that there’ll be fu­ture im­pact from COVID-19 on stu­dents in the next aca­demic year,” Sarah says. “We know there could be lo­cal lock­downs, or in­di­vid­ual stu­dents who have to quar­an­tine.”

She is also wor­ried that the “po­ten­tial for un­fair­ness be­tween stu­dents next year is quite great”, due to how dif­fer­ently stu­dents were af­fected by the lock­down this year. She says that schools need to know now whether grades will be awarded by teach­ers again, to make sure that teach­ers and pupils don’t have this stress­ful sit­u­a­tion in 2021.

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