Furious A-level students and their parents have compared Gavin Williamson to Frank Spencer amid chaos over today’s exam results.
Around 40 per cent of today’s marks were downgraded from their teachers’ recommendad grades after the government announced it would be using an algorithm to calculate results.
The 11th-hour move from the government sparked chaos today with teachers facing having to launch thousands of appeals against downgraded results, and thousands of students failing to get the required grades for university places.
Education Secretary, Mr Williamson has borne the brunt of the anger, with Twitter users comparing him to Frank Spencer, the accident-prone star of iconic British sitcom Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em.
Earlier, A-level students shared their exasperation on social media after the Ucas website crashed when they tried to see whether they had got into university.
Pupils logging on at 8am were met with a message saying ‘connection timed out’ as they attempted to check if they had been accepted onto a degree course.
One tweeted: ‘Great, 8.01am and Ucas has already crashed. Come on, how did they not expect the traffic?’ Another said: ‘As if Ucas has crashed – what are they trying to do to us?’
The website appeared to be down for more than half an hour for some as teenagers fretted and shared their nerves online as they waited to find out their A-level results.
A Ucas spokesman said this morning: ‘Be patient with when signing into Ucas Track this morning, we’re sorry it’s running a little slow, we’re working on it.’
Beleaguered students are waking up to their grades amid last-minute changes to appeals, with around one in four entries expected to be awarded the top marks.
Around 250,000 school leavers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are receiving calculated grades to help them progress onto university, work or training after this summer’s exams were cancelled due to the pandemic.
But many are riddled with anxiety as they face the prospect of losing out on a place at their chosen university.
The Government announced late on Tuesday that students in England will have the ‘safety net’ of being able to use mock exam results as the basis for an appeal if they are higher than the calculated grade.
However, pupils in England will not be allowed to have their exam results upgraded when they are published today.
The Education Secretary has ruled out England following Scotland in accepting scores estimated by teachers.
Gavin Williamson said that allowing teachers’ grades to be used would ‘see students lose out.’
Gavin Williamson ruled out further changes to the grading system in the face of any exams backlash.
He told Times Radio: ‘What is clear to me is there will be some youngsters, no matter how much we try to do in terms of this system to maximise the fairness of it, who don’t get the grade they should have potentially have got.
‘That’s why we need to have a really robust system, that’s why we’ve got the triple lock.’
Mr Williamson said this would provide ‘robust grounds of appeal’ and allow pupils to take exams later in the year if required.
Asked if he was prepared to change the system again amid threats of legal action from parents, Mr Williamson replied: ‘We’re not going to be changing this system again.
‘We believe that we’ve put in place – in terms of the triple lock, in terms of the actions we’ve taken – a system that is able to put its arm round those youngsters where there has been a grade that has been unfair on them and is able to put that right.’
Pupils from the most disadvantaged backgrounds would have been at ‘high risk’ of losing out compared to their more middle-class counterparts if exams had been delayed rather than cancelled, according to the Education Secretary.
The Education Secretary was asked if he regretted not pushing for exams to be delayed until June.
He told Times Radio: ‘If we’d been in a situation where we tried to delay the exams – and this is what happened in Ireland – what became apparent is that children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds, who maybe hadn’t had the same level of support and help, would have been at a maybe high risk of not either turning up to those exams or not having had the same level of support in the run-up to those exams as children from more middle-class backgrounds.’
Mr Williamson said there have been ‘very few examples’ where delaying exams was a ‘feasible’ route to go down.
The Education Secretary was also asked why England’s exams regulator Ofqual was not in a position to tell students on results day whether they would have the opportunity to appeal their grades, after it announced it has cancelled its press conference on Thursday.
Speaking to Sky News, Mr Williamson said: ‘The reason Ofqual hadn’t got it ready for today is because it’s obviously a decision that was made sort of later on in the process, and that they are working to make sure that information is shared with schools and colleges over the next few days.’
It came hours after Scotland’s Education Secretary announced that moderated calculated grades would be scrapped following an outcry after more than 124,000 results were downgraded.
School and university leaders have demanded clarity from ministers on how the appeals process in England will work and whether it will be completed in time for universities opening in the autumn.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said teachers are likely to face questions from ‘disgruntled’ students over appeals on Thursday which they will struggle to answer due to the last-minute announcement and lack of detail about how the process will work.
The Ucas deadline for applicants to meet their academic offer conditions is September 7, which leaves exam boards less than four weeks to issue outcomes of appeals from schools and colleges.
Rachel Hewitt, director of policy and advocacy at the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI), believes university admissions officers and Ucas will receive more calls from students ‘than ever before’ following the last-minute decision to allow English students to use mock grades if they appeal.
She said: ‘It may well be that this change pushes more students to seek to appeal their grades, leaving universities to consider how to manage their places between those who achieve the grades, clearing and those seeking to appeal.
‘The reintroduction of the numbers cap for this year has further complicated this by restricting the places that universities have to give.’
On the changes to appeals, Mr Barton said: ‘Young people are going to come in to get their grades – many of whom we hope will be delighted, some of whom will be disappointed.
‘Some will be perhaps deeply disgruntled and will say ‘so that appeal process using my mock exam, how does that work Miss?’ and Miss isn’t going to be able to reply unless we hear pretty urgently about it.
‘I think there will be a sense from school leaders of us being put in a position of being on the back foot.
‘I think there will be very deep frustration around that on a day which is always emotionally highly charged, but it’s likely to be more so because of this announcement.’
Last year, 25.5% of UK entries were awarded an A or A* grades, the lowest proportion since 2007, according to statistics published by the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ).
England’s exams regulator Ofqual previously said that the national results are likely to be higher this summer than previous years following disruption.
Teachers were told to submit the grades they thought each student would have received if they had sat the papers after exams were cancelled.
Exam boards have moderated these grades to ensure this year’s results are not significantly higher than previous years.