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Gavin Williamson seeks accountable Ofqual for exams debacle | Schooling

August 30, 2020
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Gavin Williamson has tried to put the blame for the exam fiasco on the Ofqual regulator's door after a humiliating climb toppled eight feet but left thousands of students in abeyance.

Two days after saying there would be "no U-turn, no change," the Education Secretary apologized and ordered a full reversal where students in England can return to their teachers' recommended A-level grades if these are higher.

"I am sorry for the hardship this has caused young people and their parents, but I hope this announcement now offers the reassurance and security they deserve," said Williamson.

Despite days of increasing anger from school principals, Boris Johnson had also insisted that the algorithm used to determine millions of high school and GCSE grades that hit disadvantaged students disproportionately was "robust" and "reliable".

The government is now lifting the cap on admission to English universities to allow institutions to accept more students who missed their offers after 40% of A-Level scores - around 280,000 - were downgraded. However, the vice chancellors warned that they would not have enough room for everyone and left thousands behind to secure their university of choice.

The final GCSE results are now being postponed until next week. On Thursday, schools can tell students what grades they have received from the center. However, official notification was delayed to include rare instances where Ofqual's moderated grades were higher than teachers' grades.

About 2 million of these should be downgraded before the reversal on Monday.

Wales announced a similar change in A-level grades on Monday. The Northern Irish executive followed suit after announcing earlier in the day that it would use teacher-graded grades for GCSEs.

The move followed days of mounting anger among Conservative MPs and alarms among students that led to street protests outside the Department of Education (DfE) in London and several other cities.

Williamson explained the decision on Monday, claiming that it was not until "Saturday and Sunday" that he became aware of the extent of the problems with the Ofqual algorithm, which was used to moderate the results. He declined to say whether he believed Sally Collier, Ofqual's main regulator, should resign.

"I realized over the weekend that Ofqual ... and outside experts were able to demonstrate that there was real concern about what ... (grades) were getting large numbers of students ... and whether that was a fair and fair reflection of their efforts," Williamson said.

“We… kept asking a large number of challenging questions about the system. Its robustness and its fairness. We were constantly reassured about that. Over the weekend Ofqual released part of the algorithm to the public and actually shared it fairly broadly, and obviously we saw a number of outliers that I would just call outliers that didn't make sense. "

Gavin Williamson, Aug. 12, to ITV

"(I) have every confidence that the system we have put in place is a robust system, a system that is fair."

Gavin Williamson, Aug 12, to the BBC

“The system will produce credible and strong results for the vast majority of young people. It's a robust system, it's a fair system, it ensures that young people get the grades they have worked so hard for. "

Nick Gibb, Aug. 12, on Sky News

"Most young people ... will get the grade that the teacher sent to the board of examiners they thought they would get."

Gavin Williamson, Aug. 13, to Sky News

Q) "Can you give a cast iron guarantee that you will not be forced into the embarrassing U-turn that John Swinney and Nicola Sturgeon had in Scotland?"

A) "Absolute"

Boris Johnson, Aug 13, to reporters in Northern Ireland

"Let us have no doubt, the exam results we have today are robust. They are good and reliable for employers. It is very important that people should be able to look at these qualities in the years to come and to consider them robust and reliable. "

Gavin Williamson, Aug. 15, interview with The Times

"That's it ... no U-turn, no change ... (In Scotland) You have a system where there are no controls, you have rampant inflation. There are no checks and balances in that system. It makes everyone worse single class as a result and branded injustice. "

Labor leader Keir Starmer welcomed a so-called "screeching U-turn" by the government. “This is a victory for the thousands of young people who have made their voices heard over the past week. However, the Tories' handling of this situation was a complete fiasco. Incompetence has become the buzzword of this government, whether in schools, tests or nursing homes. Boris Johnson's failure to take the lead is holding the UK back. "

Williamson declined to say whether he had offered to resign after the crisis, prompting Johnson to step in from his Scottish vacation to have a phone call with ministers and senior officials. After the school reopened in England in just two weeks, the Prime Minister's spokesman insisted that Johnson continue to have confidence in the Education Secretary.

Tory grandee Nicholas Soames tweeted: "What could the prime minister have thought of appointing such a mere, so unreliable, so completely unsuitable man to one of the most important roles in government?"

Students protest outside the constituency office of Gavin Williamson in South Staffordshire on Monday. Photo: Jason Cairnduff / Reuters

Roger Taylor, chairman of Ofqual, acknowledged that the standardized system caused widespread agony and damaged public confidence and apologized to those affected.

“There was no easy solution to the problem of assigning exam scores when no exams have taken place. Ofqual was asked by the Secretary of State (Williamson) to develop a system for awarding calculated grades that would maintain standards and ensure that grades were awarded largely in line with previous years. Our goal has always been to protect public trust in educational qualifications.

“However, we recognize that while the approach we have taken has tried to achieve these goals, we also appreciate that it has also caused real agony and damaged public confidence. The expectation that schools would submit appeals with wrong grades weighed on teachers as they prepare for the new semester and created uncertainty and fear among students. We are very sorry for all of this. "

Earlier in the day, Paymaster General Penny Mordaunt was the first incumbent British minister to go public calling for more help for students whose results had been downgraded. He tweeted, “This group of young people has already lost so much we need to make sure that bright, able students can take their next step. Delaying a year is not and should not be an option. For many this means that the training is abandoned. "

She was among more than 20 Conservative MPs who made their concerns public at lunchtime. Robert Halfon, the chairman of the education committee, who warned of the risks of an evaluation algorithm last month, called the situation a "national disaster".

The less worth it? The campaign group, representing hundreds of secondary school principals, welcomed the turnaround. "It's a relief that this whole ominous mess has some kind of closure," said Jules White, principal and head of Worth Less? “The students will be much fairer and everyone can be happy with it.

“However, important questions remain: Why did it take the DfE so long to resolve the matter? Why did Ofqual and the DfE just spend time blaming each other instead of acting on behalf of children, their families and schools? "

The algorithm used by Ofqual for high school graduation and GCSE was mainly based on previous individual exam results and past performance of schools and disabled high-performing students from disadvantaged schools. Teachers and schools were asked to submit grades known as center graded grades. Ultimately, however, these were only influential in a few cases. Stories of students who fell from A to E and from C to U emerged. The teacher ranking lists were also used.

Former Lib Dem school minister David Laws said too much emphasis had been placed on avoiding inflation. “Ofqual has tried this year to maintain the credibility of the exam system as a whole, but this appears to come at a very high price for fairness to individual students. In choosing between maintaining exam standards and being fair to individual students, it is far more important to prioritize fairness to students, ”he said.

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