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A-level farce goes on as Ofqual SUSPENDS criteria hours after saying appeals could be based on mocks

The exams regulator for England has dramatically suspended its criteria for students hoping to challenge their A-level grades on the basis of their results in mock exams.

In a brief statement, Ofqual said the policy was ‘being reviewed’ by its board and that further information would be released ‘in due course’.

No reason for the decision was immediately available, sparking confusion for parents across the country and sparked calls for Education Secretary Gavin Williamson to resign.

The move comes just hours after the body published its criteria for mock exam results to be considered as the basis of an appeal.

It threatened to plunge the A-level process into further disarray following an outcry from students after almost 40% of predicted grades were downgraded by the regulator’s ‘moderation’ algorithm.

In a statement late on Saturday, an Ofqual spokesman said: ‘Earlier today we published information about mock exam results in appeals.

‘This policy is being reviewed by the Ofqual Board and further information will be published in due course.’ 

Adding to the confusion, the Telegraph had reported earlier that teachers’ predicted grades could be used by students appealing their results.

However, it is not clear whether this is still the case given Ofqual’s latest suspension of the appeals criteria. 

Exams regulator Ofqual had earlier revealed details on how students can appeal against their A-level results using grades from mock tests. 

Ofqual said it would allow non-exam assessment marks to be used to ‘make sure this opportunity is available to a wide range of students, including those who had not taken a written mock exam before schools and colleges closed’.

It also confirmed no grades would be lowered as a result of an appeal however the initial set of criteria has now been suspended.

The suspension of their most recent policy has been criticised as causing more confusion amid the results chaos that has resulted.

Stalwart Labour MP Yvette Cooper has said: ‘Even more unbelievable chaos & incompetence.

‘Young people’s futures are being screwed up by this & Govt doesn’t seem to have a clue what it’s doing.’

Shadow education secretary Kate Green said: ‘Gavin Williamson promised to give students a triple lock, but instead he left many devastated by unfair exam results, and now his commitment to give them another chance is rapidly unravelling,’ she said.

‘Having promised that students will be able to use a valid mock result, the reality is that many will not receive these grades even if they represent a student’s best result.

‘The latest chaos is the inevitable consequence of this Government’s shambolic approach to exams, which saw solutions dreamt up on the back of a cigarette packet and announced barely a day before young people received their results.’

The regulator said mock grades would be valid if they came from appropriately supervised assessments where there was ‘no possibility of correction’, provided the assessment was produced by a relevant exam board or developed by a teacher in line with a previous exam.

Mock grades must also have been marked in line with an exam board’s regular standards and assessments must have been completed and graded by March 20 2020.

Ofqual had earlier confirmed appeals using mock results could begin from Monday and would apply for GCSE, AS and A-level students as well as those taking Extended Project Qualifications and Advanced Extension Award in maths.

The latest setback comes as ministers were braced for a fresh backlash when GCSE results for England are announced on Thursday.

Like the A-level results, they will initially be based on teacher assessments and then ‘moderated’ by the Ofqual algorithm to bring them in line with previous years’ results.

According to the Observer, more than 4.6 million GCSEs in England – about 97 per cent – will be assigned solely based on the controversial algorithm drawn up by Ofqual.

It has been reported the government is expected to face a legal challenge over its results chaos within days. 

Mr Williamson has said the process was necessary to prevent ‘grade inflation’ which would render the results worthless after actual exams had to be abandoned due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The Education Secretary has faced calls to resign from students, teachers and fellow-politicians including the Liberal Democrat acting leader Ed Davey.

Labour has also joined calls for Mr Williamson to resign as MP Rupa Huq said: ‘He’s out of his depth and should quit. At least he has an alternative career ahead as a Frank Spencer impersonator.’

Critics have complained the algorithm has led to thousands of individual injustices, disproportionately penalising students from schools serving disadvantaged communities. 

 Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, criticised the process, branding it ‘surreal and bureaucratic’.

He said: ‘This is clearly a face-saving exercise by a Government which has said that it won’t do a U-turn on its pledge that moderated grades will stand, come what may.

‘Instead, it is attempting to remedy the grading fiasco through an appeals process so surreal and bureaucratic that it would be better off at this point doing that U-turn and allowing original teacher-assessed grades, where they are higher, to replace moderated grades.

‘That would be a better approach than this appeals system as it would mean students would get revised A-level grades immediately on the basis of the teacher assessments already conducted, which draw on the very evidence that is now proposed as part of the appeals process.’

He added: ‘We don’t blame Ofqual for the bizarre nature of the appeals criteria. The regulator has been given a hospital pass by a Government that is in disarray.

‘It is time for ministers to stop the chaos and fall back on teacher-assessed grades rather than prolong this nightmare.’

The news comes as the Welsh government has also confirmed students in Wales will be able to appeal against their A-level grades if they are lower than their teachers’ predictions.

There has been an outcry in Wales after 42% of all A-level grades were lowered during the moderation process.

Education minister Kirsty Williams had said appeals would be allowed if ‘there is evidence’ pupils should have received higher grades.

Before the results were published on Thursday, Ms Williams announced that final grades would not be lower than pupils’ earlier AS results.

‘Earlier this week I directed Qualifications Wales to broaden the grounds for appeal for A-levels, AS, Skills Challenge Certificate and GCSEs,’ she said.

‘Today, they have now confirmed what this means for students.

‘I accept that learners wanted and needed more clarity, and I believe this achieves that.

‘Qualification Wales and the WJEC will share the full details, but appeals can now be made where there is evidence of internal assessments that has been judged by the school or college to be at a higher grade than the grade they have been awarded.

‘There is a guarantee that no-one will receive a lower grade after appeal and all appeals are free.’

Regulator Qualifications Wales said schools would be able to appeal to exam board WJEC if they:

– they used the wrong data when calculating a grade

– the calculated grades generated by the statistical standardisation model were incorrectly allocated or communicated

– there was some other procedural failing on the part of WJEC

– there is evidence of internal assessment that has been judged by the school or college to be at a higher grade than the calculated grade awarded.

The regulator said that no grades would be lowered as a result of an appeal and would either go up or stay the same.

The moderation system overseen by Qualifications Wales and WJEC has been criticised by pupils, teachers, unions and opposition politicians.

This year’s exams were cancelled across the UK because of the coronavirus lockdown and there are fears the replacement grading system will create a postcode lottery.

A record 29.9% of students recorded an A or A* grades, which is less than the 40.4% who were estimated to receive top grades by teachers.

The Joint Council for Qualifications said the grades submitted by schools and colleges were ‘optimistic and, without standardisation, would have produced atypically high outcomes’.

Adam Price, Plaid Cymru leader, said: ‘Pupils who were awarded lesser grades than the teacher assessments in A-level and AS exams should be upgraded to the teacher assessment grades.

‘If this approach is being advocated by the UK Labour leader in England, why is the Labour First Minister in Wales so stubbornly against?’

‘Further, this should be used as the mechanism for awarding GCSE results and this should be communicated to learners today for peace of mind.’

The Senedd’s children, young people and education committee will be recalled on Tuesday and has invited the Welsh Government, Qualification Wales and WJEC to provide information and answer questions.

Committee chair Lynne Neagle said: ‘Given the significant concerns and complexities surrounding the awarding of exam results this year we will be meeting urgently to seek clarity for those who’ve been through this challenging process in unprecedented times.’

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