The Daily Telegraph
A poor effort with predictable results
The exams fiasco in England beggars belief, given the time authorities have had to prepare. Even if they had failed to do so until recently, they were given a clear warning signal from Scotland that a storm was looming. Yet, rather than change tack, they sailed straight into it with calamitous consequences. As we said more than a week ago when ministers were defending the computer modelling used to replace cancelled A-level exams, this was never going to be about data credibility but the personal experiences of thousands of children and their families.
Governments are too easily persuaded that the system matters more than the individuals within it. That may be acceptable where exams are concerned when moderation is needed to prevent grade inflation. But when children have not even been given the chance to sit them, and their futures are decided instead by an algorithm, their deep sense of grievance is understandable.
The stories that have emerged in recent days suggest the Ofqual model was fundamentally flawed in any case. Twins who attended the same school and had always had similar marks were both predicted to get straight As by their teachers. Yet one received AAB while the other was given CCC. How can that be remotely possible? It is clearly not “robust and fair” as Boris Johnson said. Another student who needed three Cs to go to a veterinary college and had been predicted AAB was awarded DDD. “I have no idea how this happened,” she said.
She is not alone. There are thousands of similar stories and many involve high performers in schools that do not do well overall. Their results are the very antithesis of the upward social mobility that is supposed to be a government goal.
Last-minute changes announced by Gavin Williamson, the Education Secretary, and contradictory advice about the now-suspended appeals procedure issued by Ofqual, have confused matters further. Many students may yet be upgraded, and some universities are honouring places they have offered whatever the grades. But the damage has been done and more is expected on Thursday when the GCSE results are published.
Around Europe this was done so much better. All German students sat their exams, as they should have done here, while in France – where the baccalauréat was cancelled – local juries calculated grades using the marks given for tests and coursework during the year. In neither country has there been anything like the debacle here. Why is that?