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England SCRAPS A-level & GCSE grades & replaces marks with teachers’ scores as Gavin Williamson says sorry for distress

HUNDREDS of thousands of A-level and GCSE grades generated by computers are to be ditched and replaced with teachers’ predicted marks after a huge uproar, it was finally confirmed today.

Boris Johnson bowed to overwhelming pressure from parents, pupils and his own MPs and ripped up the whole system just days after it was put in place.

⚠️ Read our GCSE and A-levels live blog for the latest news & updates

It means that kids will now have the highest grade out of the teacher predicted mark, or the computer-generated mark.

Many of them will now have hope of getting into university – but thousands will be disappointed as so many spots have already been dished out.

This afternoon Gavin Williamson said sorry again to thousands of pupils for the huge distress they suffered during days of stress and heartbreak.

Furious parents, students and politicians have blasted ministers for the unfair decision to mark kids’ teacher predicted grades down using controversial algorithms.

A staggering 39 per cent of A levels were downgraded by a computer algorithm last week – but Boris himself said the system was “robust”.

England followed Wales and Northern Ireland earlier today who announced the drastic move.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said this afternoon: “It is clear that the process of allocating grades has resulted in more significant inconsistencies than can be resolved through an appeals process.

“We now believe it is better to offer young people and parents certainty by moving to teacher assessed grades for both A and AS level and GCSE results.

“I am sorry for the distress this has caused young people and their parents but hope this announcement will now provide the certainty and reassurance they deserve.”

The move came just 48 hours after Mr Williamson told The Times in an interview: “This is it. No U-turn, no change.”

He said this evening that it became clear to him that more needed to be done “over the weekend”.

Mr Williamson also said he would rip up the cap on university places – and urged them to take as many as possible.

He added: “They won’t be fined and we’re removing those caps on every single university in the United Kingdom, so that they have the ability to expand the number of places, welcoming more students into those universities, as many as possible.”

It came after:

Roger Taylor, Chair of the exams regulator Ofqual said in a grovelling apology: “The pandemic has created circumstances no one could have ever imagined or wished for.

“We want to now take steps to remove as much stress and uncertainty for young people as possible – and to free up heads and teachers to work towards the important task of getting all schools open in two weeks.

“After reflection, we have decided that the best way to do this is to award grades on the basis of what teachers submitted. The switch to centre assessment grades will apply to both AS and A levels and to the GCSE results which students will receive later this week.”

He admitted the change in the system had caused “real anguish and damaged public confidence”.

And the burden had been placed on teachers – who needed to get ready for the start of the new term rather than worry about sending off thousands of appeals.

He stressed: “For all of that, we are extremely sorry.

“We have therefore decided that students be awarded their centre assessment for this summer – that is, the grade their school or college estimated was the grade they would most likely have achieved in their exam – or the moderated grade, whichever is higher.”

A-level student Nina Bunting Mitcham, from Peterborough said at the news: “I am so happy for my future, my peers in my college, everybody else affected.

“Everyone has been heard, finally.

“The fact I was given a prediction of ABB means I will have those grades and be able to become a vet.

“I couldn’t be happier, I really couldn’t.”

She had got CDD before today’s news.

Of the chaos around the u-turn she said of the Government: “They have really embarrassed themselves, but they have been able to turn it around, to show they do have a heart.

“They do have some realisation of what they have done, and they have listened for once.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer tweeted as soon as the move was confirmed: “The Government has had months to sort out exams and has now been forced into a screeching U-turn after days of confusion.

“This is a victory for the thousands of young people who have powerfully made their voices heard this past week.

“However, the Tories’ handling of this situation has been a complete fiasco.

“Incompetence has become this Government’s watchword, whether that is on schools, testing or care homes.

“Boris Johnson’s failure to lead is holding Britain back.”

It’s not clear yet exactly what will happen now with university and apprenticeship applications.

Mr Williamson’s decision to rip up the cap means many more thousands can go to university – if the place wants to offer them one.

But many may not be able to get a place, and may be asked if they can defer for a year.

Admissions service UCAS said they were “working with universities, colleges and schools to support students to understand their options”.

They said universities would get the teacher grades and could make their own decisions – giving hope to thousands who may have given up hope on their preferred place.

They added: “For those students who were not placed with their firm (or insurance) choice university, our advice is that you don’t need to make your decision immediately.

“Speak with your parents, guardians and teachers and then your first conversation will need to be to your firm (or insurance) choice university.

“Once your university has your ‘Centre Assessed Grades (CAG)’ via exam bodies they can make a decision as to whether there is a place at your preferred choice.

“We will be issuing new advice for students and schools and this will be sent directly to students as soon as they are able to take a decision.

“UCAS is working with Universities UK and the education sector and whilst the decision is with the individual university, we will do everything we can to support students to use their CAGs to secure the best possible outcome.”

University College London has said they will accept all pupils given an offer, but are still working out how this will apply to courses such as medicine – which had a cap on numbers based on practical constraints.

The London university said: “UCL’s priority is to be as fair as possible to all applicants, recognising that they have worked hard during unprecedented circumstances and deserve their first choice university.

“We are delighted to accept all students who meet the terms of their original offer on all programmes that do not have an externally-determined cap (such as medicine).

“For those students who have met our offer to study medicine based on teacher-assessed grades but do not yet have a place confirmed, we are working with the relevant agencies about places this year and we will guarantee a deferred place for next year.”

Opposition MPs said the change came too little too late.

Wera Hobhouse tweeted: “While this u-turn is welcome, it comes too late for many students who have missed out on course places. The Government has shattered young people’s hopes and plans. @GavinWilliamson and @BorisJohnson – how will you make this right?”

Some universities have said they will take kids’ predicted grades regardless of the changes anyway.

But others are sticking with the computer marks and have said they are already full up.

It’s not clear whether students who have a spot at their second place can refuse it, and get their first choice place again.

Mary Curnock Cook, formerly UCAS chief executive, told the BBC kids could have to take gap years because there simply isn’t enough places at universities now.

She said today: “There are literally tens of thousands of students who decisions have already been made about who they accept and don’t accept.

“This change will mean that universities have to rethink completely.

“I think we must expect from the Government very soon that the cap on university students should be lifted.

“Many have filled their places rightly and now they are being asked to take in potentially tens of thousands of people moved back to their centre assessed grades.

“There will be some courses that are just physically full and may have to offer deferrals.”

Tory MPs are set to have meetings with ministers to explain the sweeping changes.

Churchill’s grandson and former Tory MP Sir Nicolas Soames branded Mr Williamson a “complete inadequate”.

And Tory George Freeman MP tweeted at today’s news: “This #ExamResults shambles has been hugely damaging to trust in the @educationgovuk @10DowningStreet:

“When it was obvious.”

Defence minister Johnny Mercer and Paymaster General Penny Mordaunt were two serving members of the Government to speak out ahead of the massive u-turn.

Dozens of backbenchers and former ministers soon joined in too, forcing the Government to act.

Students have been left furious and devastated after algorithms marked their grades down – as they were unable to take exams due to the coronavirus crisis.

The PM has confidence in the Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, and the head of exams regulator Ofqual despite the chaos.

Boris Johnson broke off his Scottish holiday this morning to hold a call with the Education Secretary and other senior officials to discuss the huge change in policy.

Tory MPs – including current serving ministers – rounded on the Government for the shambles and demanded they change course.

Several Tories were rounding on the Education Secretary last week – amid speculation he could lose his job over the fiasco.

After the u-turn he was 2/1 with Ladbrokes to be the next Cabinet minister to leave their post.

Jessica O’Reilly of Ladbrokes said: “Given the backlash to exam grades it’s perhaps not too much of a surprise that Williamson is the clear favourite now in a hotly contested market.”

And a YouGov poll this evening said 40 per cent of the public said he should quit.

He said this afternoon when asked if he would consider quitting that he went to a comprehensive and is determined to “fix this”.

Tory MP George Freeman hinted his job might be on the line.

He told Times Radio: “Ultimately, the Prime Minister is in charge. And I think he will want to take firm control of this and get a grip and show that his government is taking the life chances of a generation of children seriously…

“I’m told the Prime Minister’s you know, planning to reshuffle in the autumn, and I dare say he wants to take everything into account.”

Labour big beast and ex Education Secretary Alan Johnson told The Sun that Mr Williamson should be sacked.

He said: “This job was totally beyond his capabilities. He should go. “They may try to blame it all on Ofqual, but this was Gavin Williamson’s mess and he has to take the bullet.”

Under-fire exams boss Sally Collier was today blasted for being “invisible” and “more secretive than the KGB” during the A Levels fiasco.

The Ofqual boss – a lifelong bureaucrat who earns a whopping £200,000 a year – has not been seen or heard from throughout the fiasco.

Fuming politicians and teachers said she must “show her face” and apologise to pupils let down by the disaster.

They called for her to be put on her final warning and sacked if a way out of the mess is not found.

Tory MP Robert Halfon, chairman of the education select committee, told The Sun: “Ofqual have been more secretive than the KGB.

“They have behaved like secretive cardinals at the Vatican choosing a Pope rather than like officials developing a transparent grading system.

“There is going to need to be fundamental changes at Ofqual when this is all over.”

Former Ofsted boss Sir Michael Wilshaw branded the chaos a “terrible farce” and slammed “invisible” bosses at Ofqual.

Steve Chalke, boss of the academy school chain Oasis, told The Sun that Ms Collier in in the last chance saloon.

He said: “She should own up and apologise to every child for the emotional trauma and apologise to students and teachers.

“This mess is an insult to teachers and pupils.

“They had six months to get ready for this.”

Asked if she should quit over the fiasco, he said: “I believe in forgiveness, but she needs to step up and explain herself. This should be her last chance.”

The PM’s official spokesman insisted Boris Johnson still has full confidence in Ms Collier and Ofqual.

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