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New BTEC results chaos as board AXES plans to announce grades tomorrow with just 18 hours notice 

Almost 500,000 BTEC students will have to wait another week to get their grades after the exam board axed results hours before they were due to be released today.

Pearson, the provider of BTECs, yesterday told schools and colleges not to publish results in the vocational qualifications to give them time to re-grade them in line with A-levels and GCSEs – which are now being graded via teacher assessments. 

This means that students face another week waiting for their BTEC grades – including 250,000 who received ‘downgrades’ marks last week for their A-level equivalent exams.  

The 11th hour move last night came despite Pearson being warned a week ago about a ‘systemic issue’ with grading, it was claimed today. 

The parent of one BTEC student said the decision to withhold final grades has left his son feeling like a ‘second-class student’. 

Caleb Taylor, 19, is waiting for the results of his level three Btec in computing and business.

His father, Richard, said he has been unable to enrol at his college in Gwent for next year without knowing his final grades.

He said: ‘I think it’s a disgrace. He feels like he is a second-class student, and Btecs are seen as less important than A-levels because they have been sorted out last.

‘Technical qualifications shouldn’t be seen as less than. My son is really anxious because he doesn’t know what he will be doing next year.

‘He plans to go to university but it is a good thing he didn’t want to go this year because he would have missed out on his space.

‘There has just been no communication, we just don’t know what is going on.’

This morning, David Hughes, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘We’d been talking to Pearson ever since the results came out last Thursday and we knew there were lots and lots of problems, lots of students not getting the results they really should have got, lots of colleges saying to us that actually this just doesn’t look right, and we were saying to Pearson ‘is this just isolated cases or is it a more systemic issue’?

‘I think what they’ve realised is that both the level three results last week, but perhaps more importantly for the results that were due today, that this was a system issue and they really needed to do a thorough review.’  

BBC Radio 4 was told by Bexleyheath Academy in South East London that some results papers give both grades on the same piece of paper – so the principal is giving out BTEC grades today because there are on the same piece of paper as the GCSEs.

Schools minister Nick Gibb today told Sky News that BTEC results were being reviewed and they will be ‘they’ll be reissuing them hopefully next week’.  

The National Education Union’s co-general secretary said the Government now ‘must put an end’ to the ‘incompetence’ around the issuing of the Btec results. 

Dr Mary Bousted said: ‘Teachers know their students better than any model or algorithm and it will be a relief to many that the grades they receive are now a fairer reflection of their achievements.

‘To add to the GCSE and A-level fiasco, the decision by (examiner) Pearson not to issue Btec results at the eleventh hour compounds the upsetting and chaotic experience for students.

‘Government must put an end to this incompetence and work quickly to ensure every young person gets the grades they deserve to move on to the next stages of their lives.’

The development will also cause even further disruption to students seeking places in higher education, with universities under pressure from thousands of pupils scrambling to get their first choices after the U-turn led to improved grades. 

Mr Hughes added: ‘This is a decision that is kind of the result of lots and lots of poor decisions over many weeks.

‘One thing we’ve got to do I think in the fullness of time is a full review, independent review, open and transparent into what went wrong, not to blame people, but really to understand what’s happened, because confidence in the system has been completely blown.

‘Ofqual wanted integrity in the system to be at the heart of all this, and I think that’s the last thing that’s been achieved. So the decision by Pearson last night, really late in the day, 11th hour, almost the 12th, hour was probably the right decision, just a shame it came so late.

‘But sometimes it is better to make the right decision rather than carry on and get very, very unfair outcomes for students.’

Alex Dyer, CEO and Founder of Tutor House, told MailOnline: ‘This delay means that they will not be able to go to Sixth Form, College or apprenticeships as they have to wait for their grades, which could be a few weeks, whilst those who studied GCSE’s are moving on with their lives.

‘The government are ignoring the poorer students as well as the less regarded qualifications.’

Simon Reichwald, Strategic Lead for Talent at MyKindaFuture, commented: ‘This year’s results saga has caused an incredible amount of unnecessary distress and worry for a whole year group of students, particularly those who have studied for BTEC qualifications. 

‘The ongoing confusion around the marking system is likely to impact the young people affected for years to come, whether they choose to continue their studies or move into the world of work. 

‘Some employers and education providers may unfairly assume that a young person from the class of 2020 had their grade inflated, and therefore interrogate them on their qualifications much more than they would usually. 

‘Young people will have to pre-empt this in their interviews and demonstrate additional skills, such as extra-curricular achievements, in order to ensure they are competitive against previous year groups, putting them at an immediate disadvantage.

‘Sadly, this is likely to have the biggest impact on those who already come from disadvantaged backgrounds. 

‘We know that many talented individuals from underprivileged backgrounds already suffer from a lack of self-belief, and the results saga is likely to have dented their confidence even further. 

‘Due to their vocational nature, BTECs are still unfairly considered less credible than A-Levels by many employers and those who have completed their qualifications this year will now have the added worry that they will be judged more harshly than those from previous year groups.’

Labour’s Shadow Education Seccretary Kate Green told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: ‘I think it’s utterly outrageous, it’s chaos after chaos now and at the end of this are young people psyching themselves up to receive their results, wanting to plan their futures for the next step in their studies and being let down again and again by the Government. 

‘And now to hear that not only the results that were due today are delayed until we don’t know when but some of the results received last week might have to be reviewed and adjusted, and still don’t know what they should do next. I think it’s absolutely shameful, they are in the middle of a fiasco no way of their making.’

The late decision follows the Government’s botched handling of its A-level results fiasco and comes after Labour and education unions call for Downing Street to explain why BTEC students had been left out of Monday’s grading U-turn. 

It is likely to spark fears that delays in the publication of BTEC results could risk pupils taking the vocational qualification being ‘squeezed out’ of higher education.  

In a letter to schools, Cindy Rampersaud, Pearson’s senior VP, said: ‘We appreciate this will cause additional uncertainty for students and we are sorry about this.

‘Our priority is to ensure fair outcomes for BTEC students in relation to A levels and GCSEs and that no BTEC student is disadvantaged.’ 

Pearson apologised for the ‘additional uncertainty for students’ the move will cause, with a spokeswoman saying: ‘Following Ofqual’s announcement that A-level and GCSE students are to receive centre-assessed grades, we will be applying the same principles for students receiving BTEC results this summer.

‘We will be regrading BTECs to address concerns about unfairness in relation to A-levels and GCSEs and ensure no BTEC student is disadvantaged.’

She added: ‘We know this could cause additional uncertainty for students and we are sorry about this. Our priority is to ensure fair outcomes for BTEC students and we will work around the clock to provide revised grades as soon as we can.’ 

Kate Green, Labour’s shadow education secretary, said: ‘This latest chaos is totally unacceptable. For some young people to find out less than a day in advance that they will not be receiving their grades tomorrow is utterly disgraceful.

‘It’s appalling that thousands of young people should face further confusion and uncertainty because of the Government’s incompetence.

‘This repeated chaos is simply no way to run a country. The Government must urgently set a clear deadline for every young person to receive their grades.’ 

Liberal Democrat education spokesperson Layla Moran said: ‘This is yet another shambles from the Government.

‘It seems the Conservatives, bumbling from one crisis to the next, simply forgot about a half a million students awaiting their BTEC grades, and had to pull the results at the last minute. Meanwhile, the Education Secretary is still in his job and the Prime Minister is still on holiday.

‘This summer has been a disaster for the Government, it has left students panicking about their future and colleges in turmoil. Williamson must resign and Boris Johnson must return to deal with this crisis.’ 

Yesterday exams regulator Ofqual said its algorithm used in A-levels and GCSEs was not used for the majority of vocational and technical qualifications (VTQ) – including BTECs.

But in a statement tonight, England’s exams watchdog said some exam boards, including OCR and Pearson, will ‘need more time’ to recalculate results.

It said: ‘OCR have said that their Cambridge National results will issue next week.

‘Pearson, which initially did not think there would need to be significant changes made, has now decided to revise its arrangements to ensure that students’ qualification-level results better reflect the unit-level results that students have already secured through internally assessed units.’

Ofqual added: ‘Everyone is working as quickly as possible to confirm results as soon as possible, recognising the impact that delays are having on schools, colleges and students. No learner’s result will go down as a consequence of regrading.’

Yesterday, Mr Hughes said: ‘The timing is worrying, because thousands of students were due to get their results in the morning and others have already got results which we know will not go down, but which might improve.

‘So it is vital for students that this is sorted in days rather than weeks so that students have the chance to celebrate and to plan their next steps. It is a stressful time and this delay will extend the uncertainties.’ 

He added: ‘Those students wanting to move onto further or higher education will be most worried about losing out on places.

‘We are in close communication with DfE, Ofqual and Pearson to particularly make sure that BTEC students applying for universities can still be treated fairly.’

Leora Cruddas, chief executive of the Confederation of School Trusts, said: ‘This late notification will cause very significant challenges for schools, trusts and colleges.

‘It simply is unacceptable that some of the most disadvantaged students will not receive their grades tomorrow and that nothing has been done to correct this over the past few days.’

Dr Greg Walker, chief executive at the MillionPlus group of universities said: ‘We must ensure that other learners and applicants are not forgotten.

‘These include BTEC and other applied generals students whose grades may now be delayed for a significant period to rightly ensure they will be on a par with A-level candidates.

‘Both the Government and universities should ensure that these applicants don’t get squeezed out in these unprecedented circumstances.’ 

The National Union of Students (NUS) and the University and College Union (UCU) have also voiced concerns. 

A spokesman for the Department for Education said: ‘Our priority is to ensure all students are treated fairly, including those who received vocational and technical results last week, such as BTECs and Cambridge Technicals.

‘These subjects are rightly assessed differently to A-levels, and the overwhelming majority of results are in line with centre assessment grades.

‘A minority of vocational and technical qualifications used a statistical model similar to the one Ofqual used for A-levels and GCSEs, and Ofqual has asked these awarding organisations to review their approaches to make sure no student is disadvantaged.’   

The proportion of GCSE entries in England awarded the equivalent of A* or A grades today surged to a record high after a Government U-turn meant results could be based on teachers’ estimated grades amid cancelled exams.

Hundreds of thousands of youngsters received their results at 8am this morning following major changes – but around 200,000 Btec pupils will not get their final results following a last-minute review of grades.

More than one in four (25.9 per cent) GCSE entries in England scored one of the three top grades of 7 to 9 this year, up from just over a fifth (20.7 per cent) last summer, figures from exams regulator Ofqual show.

The proportion receiving the top grades – at least a 7 or an A grade – is a record high based on available data following the decision to award grades based on teachers’ assessments, rather than an algorithm.

More than three in four (76 per cent) entries were awarded at least a 4 or a C grade in England this summer, which is up 8.9 percentage points on last year when 67.1 per cent achieved the grades.

It comes after GCSE and A-level students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland were told they would now be awarded the higher of either their teachers’ grade or the moderated grade following an outcry.

Last week, nearly two in five (39.1 per cent) of the A-level grades submitted by schools and colleges in England – around 280,000 entries in total – were adjusted down after moderation.

Exam boards had moderated the grades – using an algorithm from Ofqual – to ensure this year’s results were not significantly higher than previously and the value of students’ grades was not undermined. 

Traditional A*-G GCSE grades have been scrapped and replaced in England with a 9-1 system with 9 the highest result. A 4 is broadly equivalent to a C grade, and a 7 broadly equivalent to an A.

Students receiving GCSE results this summer will get numerical grades for all their subjects as all courses have now moved over to the new grading system.

Btec grades were not included in the original U-turn, but at 4.30pm yesterday – with just hours to go until results were released at 8am today – Pearson said it would regrade Btecs to ‘address concerns about unfairness’. 

The exam board told schools and colleges not to publish level 1 and 2 results in the vocational qualifications on Thursday to give them more time to recalculate the grades.

Schools minister Nick Gibb has apologised to students for the ‘pain and the anxiety’ they felt before this week’s grading U-turn.

He told BBC Breakfast: ‘To those hundreds of thousands of young people receiving their GCSE grades and the A level students receiving recalculated grades, I will say this to them, congratulations on what you have achieved.

‘But also how sorry I am for the pain, the anxiety and the uncertainty that they will have suffered as a consequence of the grading issues we encountered last week. And to reassure them that we are doing everything we can to put these matters right.’

Mr Gibb also said he is hopeful that students will get their Btec results next week. Asked when they will receive their grades, Mr Gibb told the BBC: ‘Well as soon as possible, but I hope next week.

‘Pearson are working to correct and to review those grades and to reissue them. And we’re working closely with Ucas and the independent regulator and exam boards to make sure that no young person will be disadvantaged as a consequence of that delay.’

He added: ‘Having spoken to Pearson and all the exam boards yesterday, I believe that they will be delivered next week.’

It is still unclear what the appeals process will be for GCSE and A-level students who are unhappy with their results following the U-turn.

But England’s exams regulator previously said individual pupils would not be allowed to challenge teacher-assessed grades.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), is expecting staff to have ‘challenging’ conversations with GCSE students unhappy with results. 

He said one sixth form college was threatened with a solicitor and had to deal with ‘abusive’ parents’ after ‘all hell broke loose’ over the colleges’ estimated grades for A-levels last week.

Speaking yesterday ahead of GCSE results day, Mr Barton said: ‘That will be repeated tomorrow I guess. I think people are expecting difficult conversations.

‘It will be around a misunderstanding of ‘This is an individual teacher. ‘She didn’t like me. She has therefore marked me down.”

Overall, this year more students are expected to receive higher GCSE grades than in previous years, Mr Barton said.

He added: ‘This is because schools may, understandably, have given some students the benefit of the doubt when they are on the borderline between two grades and they had the capability to achieve the higher grade.’

Colleges are urgently calling for more funding from the Government to cope with a likely surge of pupils who will be able to meet entry requirements for sixth form colleges amid the U-turn.

Some colleges are already at maximum capacity and there is a limit to the number of pupils they can admit amid the Covid-19 pandemic, the Sixth Form Colleges Association (SFCA) said.

James Kewin, deputy chief executive of the SFCA, told PA: ‘In many respects, the immediate challenges faced by sixth form colleges mirror those faced by universities, increased demand for places combined with pressure on space because of Covid restrictions.’

Last year, one in five entries (20.7%) in England picked up at least a 7 or an A grade, and around two thirds (67.1%) of entries in England were awarded at least grade 4, or C.

An analysis from the FFT Education Datalab research unit has suggested that disadvantaged pupils could benefit this year as the attainment gap could narrow amid the U-turn.

Lower-attaining schools appear to have submitted the most generous grades in their teacher assessment, the researchers said.

It added: ‘It’s possible that we’ll see less of a discrepancy between the improvement in results recorded by independent schools, and by state schools.’

Traditional A*-G grades have been scrapped and replaced with a 9-1 system amid reforms, with 9 the highest result. A 4 is broadly equivalent to a C grade, and a 7 broadly equivalent to an A.

Students receiving GCSE results this summer will get numerical grades for all their subjects as all courses have now moved over to the new grading system.

Mr Gibb said he was warned about concerns that the algorithm used to determine grades could impact poorer pupils.

He was asked about reports in The Times which suggested Sir Jon Coles, a former director-general at the Department for Education, wrote to Mr Williamson early last month to express concerns about the algorithm used by Ofqual.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Mr Gibb said: ‘He (Sir John) spoke to me about it and he was concerned about the model and he was concerned that it would disadvantage particularly children from poorer backgrounds.

‘And so I called a meeting therefore with the independent regulator, with Ofqual, to discuss in detail those very concerns.’

Mr Gibb revealed it ‘certainly was foreseen’ that private school pupils could benefit from the use of the algorithm.

The education minister said: ‘That certainly was foreseen because we knew that small cohorts had to rely more on the teacher-assessed grade than on the standardisation process, but that applied to the state sector as much as to the independent sector.’

Mr Gibb also defended the model used to assess grades as ‘fair’ but said it was implemented incorrectly.

He said: ‘What was always at the forefront of my mind was that no young person from a disadvantaged background would see their grades standardised to a greater extent than other young people.

‘There was about a 2 per cent difference, that’s broadly what we saw in the national results last week, in contrast to what we saw in Scotland, where there was a big gap between disadvantaged pupils.

‘And that’s because in this country we had more data about the prior attainment of young people that was built into the model.

‘So the model itself was fair, it was very popular, it was widely consulted upon – the problem arose in the way in which the three phases of the application of that model – the historic data of the school, the prior attainment of the cohort of pupils at the school, and then the national standard correction – it’s that element of the application of the model that I think there is a concern.’

Mr Gibb said: ‘The model was a good model, and we continued to refine it. The application of the model is a regulatory approach and it’s the development of that that emerged on the Thursday when the algorithm was published.

‘And at that stage it became clear that there were some results that were being published on Thursday and Friday that were just not right and they were not what the model had intended.

‘It was not intended that a young person who had worked diligently for two years on their A-levels and was expecting an A and two Bs or three As, and turned up at school to collect their grades and they were three Ds.’

Sixth forms are calling for extra funding from the Government, with some heads planning to recruit more teachers or ask staff to teach beyond their subject expertise to allow them to honour all offers made.

Others may increase class sizes or run catch-up lessons for pupils whose marks do not match their actual abilities.

Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, said the new system rewards pupils and schools where teachers ‘have over-estimated’. He added: ‘It is hard on those who have done their very best to predict accurately.

‘Young people will be getting the impression that they’re good at something when they’re actually not, so they may find they get on to do A-levels in tough subjects like physics or French or maths and then may not be able to cope with them.’

In July, exams watchdog Ofqual revealed early analysis of predicted GCSE grades submitted by teachers.

It found 31.6 per cent of papers sat by 16-year-olds in England would be awarded a 7 or higher (an old A or A*) if these centre assessment grades were used. This compared to 24.7 per cent for this age group last year – a 28 per cent rise.

Under this teacher assessment system, 7.7 per cent of papers would get a top grade of 9. And 82.4 per cent would get at least a 4, equivalent to a C, Ofqual said.

At the time, the watchdog said the ‘vast majority of centres’ had ‘submitted optimistic centre assessment grades’.

John Abbott, chief executive of the Richard Huish College in Somerset, said it is likely to have ‘more kids probably on the wrong course in September’.

This is because they may have been given higher grades than they would have gained in exams or fallen behind during lockdown.

Gill Burbridge, principal of Leyton Sixth Form College in east London, said honouring the offers it had made to almost 2,000 pupils would be a challenge. She added: ‘It is going to maybe require staff to be more flexible in terms of being able to teach across more than one area.’

James Kewin, deputy chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges Association, said ‘We have been pressing the Government to introduce a capital expansion fund for sixth form providers over the past couple of years, and action is now needed as a matter of urgency.’

The Department for Education said: ‘Our focus remains on working with Ofqual to ensure students receive their final GCSE, AS level and A-level results this week.’

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: ‘I know how difficult this year has been for students due to the coronavirus outbreak, having to be out of the classroom and away from their friends.’

He added: ‘Students can now look forward to exciting opportunities, this year they have a choice of studying our pioneering T levels, or they can do A-levels, take up an apprenticeship, or choose from a range of other vocational qualifications.’

Labour’s shadow education secretary Kate Green has called for her opposite number to publish all his correspondence about the use of a controversial grading algorithm.

In a statement, she said: ‘Gavin Williamson was warned again and again about the problems with the grading algorithm, and each time, he did nothing.

‘This endless pattern of incompetence is no way to run a country. His failure to listen to warnings and to act on them risked thousands of young people being robbed of their futures.

‘It is time for full transparency. The Department for Education must now publish all correspondence to and from the Secretary of State in which concerns about this algorithm were discussed, as a matter of urgency.

‘Young people deserve to know how they came to be let down so badly.’

Meanwhile Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross refused to give his backing to Mr Williamson and said he should ‘reflect on what happened’.

Mr Ross, who had called for Scottish Education Secretary John Swinney to lose his job after the exams U-turn there, suggested the English minister should have taken action quicker once the problems in Scotland became apparent.

‘I think Gavin Williamson and the Government and the Department for Education will be reflecting on why did they not see the problem that the SNP had to deal with as a result of their actions in Scotland,’ he told BBC Radio Scotland.

Asked whether Mr Williamson should quit, Mr Ross said: ‘That is a decision for Gavin Williamson. It’s a decision for the Prime Minister, if he continues to have the trust of the Prime Minister.

‘I’m not here to say in your report that I think Gavin Williamson has done a great job and he should continue.

‘I think he has to reflect on what happened to so many pupils in England, students who were concerned for four days, because we had the exact same up here in Scotland for a week.’

Meanwhile hundreds of thousands of BTEC pupils expecting to receive their results today have been left disappointed – after a last-minute decision to regrade them.

An exam board responsible for the vocational qualification wants more time to get the marking right following the overall grading fisaco.

But there was fury that colleges were only told of the move at 4.30pm yesterday – leaving them scrabbling to catch up. 

Leora Cruddas, chief executive of the Confederation of School Trusts, said last night: ‘It’s simply unacceptable that some of the most disadvantaged students will not receive their grades tomorrow and that nothing has been done to correct this over the past few days.’

The decision follows the announcement earlier this week that GCSE and A-level pupils would be able to receive grades based on their teachers’ estimates, rather than a computer algorithm.

Pupils taking the vocational BTEC qualification were not included in that announcement. 

Now exam body Pearson wants to ‘apply the same principles’ used in A-levels and GCSEs after becoming worried pupils taking those exams were getting an unfair advantage over BTEC pupils.

It will be regrading BTECs awarded last week – as well those that were due to be released today.

This will involve stripping out the parts of its grades that had been calculated by the algorithm using historical performance data – and using teachers’ predictions instead.Colleges have been told not to hand out results for the vocational qualification in the meantime.

After Monday’s A-level grading U-turn, education unions and Labour had demanded to know why BTEC students had missed out.

Pearson said it had ‘generally’ accepted teachers’ predictions for coursework. But it had calculated exam grades using historical performance data with a ‘view of maintaining overall outcomes over time’.

The review will ‘remove these calculated grades’. The regrading will apply to BTEC level 3 nationals, BTEC level 1/2 tech awards, level 2 technicals and level 1/2 firsts. 

About 450,000 pupils are affected, 250,000 of whom will have already received grades last week. 

In a letter to colleges, Pearson said it had ‘become concerned about unfairness in relation to what are now significantly higher outcomes for GCSE and A-levels’. It added: ‘We appreciate this will cause additional uncertainty for students and we are sorry’.

Ofqual said: ‘Everyone is working as quickly as possible to confirm results as soon as possible, recognising the impact that delays are having on schools, colleges and students.’ 

Meanwhile Government sources have indicated that Boris Johnson will not sack the Education Secretary, or demote him in a major reshuffle.

But senior backbenchers have told the whips’ office in private that Mr Williamson should be sacked following the exams fiasco.

It came as Mr Johnson’s lead fell to its lowest level since he became Prime Minister.

A YouGov poll for The Times found that support for the Conservatives has dropped four points to 40 per cent, while Labour has gained three points to 38 per cent in a week.

Tory MPs have warned that a failure to get all pupils back to school next month would represent ‘the final straw’ for Mr Williamson. 

One senior Tory said: ‘Gavin’s position is completely untenable and we need strong leadership in September, which he is singularly incapable of.’

Mr Williamson was also forced to bow to pressure and back Ofqual for the first time after being accused of playing a blame game.

He admitted that it was the regulator’s decision to abandon the grades determined by an algorithm and move to teacher assessments. 

The Department for Education said: ‘The decision [Ofqual] took to move from moderated grades to centre-assessed grades was one that we agreed with. Our focus remains on working with Ofqual to ensure students receive their final GCSE, AS-level and A-level results this week so that they can move on to the next stage of their lives.’

The admission will raise further questions over whether Mr Williamson was unaware of the scale of the problem or how the controversial algorithm would even work until the weekend.

Tory MPs have made representations to the whips’ office that Mr Williamson should leave his post now.

Tobias Ellwood, the defence committee chairman, said the Government should ‘reconfigure’ its top team and harness the ‘full talent’ available. 

And a former minister said: ‘There’s genuine anger now about how somebody like Gavin got [the job] in the first place’There are questions of judgment about why Theresa May and then Boris Johnson promoted him. Somebody with more competence in the same job could’ve avoided all this.’

By Claire Ellicott, Political Correspondent for the Daily Mail

Gavin Williamson has been warned that schools must reopen smoothly in September – or he must go.

Government sources have indicated that Boris Johnson will not sack the Education Secretary, or demote him in a major reshuffle.

But senior backbenchers have told the whips’ office in private that Mr Williamson should be sacked following the exams fiasco.

It came as Mr Johnson’s lead fell to its lowest level since he became Prime Minister.

A YouGov poll for The Times found that support for the Conservatives has dropped four points to 40 per cent, while Labour has gained three points to 38 per cent in a week.

Tory MPs have warned that a failure to get all pupils back to school next month would represent ‘the final straw’ for Mr Williamson. One senior Tory said: ‘Gavin’s position is completely untenable and we need strong leadership in September, which he is singularly incapable of.’

Mr Williamson was also forced to bow to pressure and back Ofqual for the first time after being accused of playing a blame game.

He admitted that it was the regulator’s decision to abandon the grades determined by an algorithm and move to teacher assessments. The Department for Education said: ‘The decision [Ofqual] took to move from moderated grades to centre-assessed grades was one that we agreed with. Our focus remains on working with Ofqual to ensure students receive their final GCSE, AS-level and A-level results this week so that they can move on to the next stage of their lives.’

The admission will raise further questions over whether Mr Williamson was unaware of the scale of the problem or how the controversial algorithm would even work until the weekend.

Tory MPs have made representations to the whips’ office that Mr Williamson should leave his post now.

Education union chiefs have today demanded an overhaul of next year’s GCSE and A-Level exams over fears coronavirus could cut school contact time and called for an emphasis shift away from end-of-year exams – because students find them ‘too stressful’.

Bosses at the National Education Union (NEU), the UK’s largest teaching union, have written to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson, warning new spikes in Covid-19 could lead to ‘further loss of schooling’.

The union has warned the Government should already be making contingency plans and have called for changes to next year’s exams, in the hope education chiefs can ‘build confidence’ in the grades awarded.

These include reducing the amount of content assessed in 2021’s GCSE and A-level exams, working with teachers to develop a ‘robust’ system for moderated centre-assessed grades.

The NEU also wants an independent review into the assessment methods for GCSEs and A-levels, warning that the current system is ‘over-reliant’ on end of year exams, which ‘increase student anxiety’. 

The calls comes after the government’s dramatic U-turn over A-Level exam grades earlier this week, which saw a controversial algorithm system scrapped after thousands of students had their teacher-assessed grades lowered – mostly based upon their school’s previous set of results.

In their letter, NEU chiefs Dr Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney said the controversy around last week’s A-level results ‘must never happen again’. 

In the letter, they said: ‘It is clear to the National Education Union that Government needs to make much bigger changes to next year’s exams in order to build confidence that the grades awarded, upon which young people’s life chances are determined, properly recognise and reward their achievements.

‘You should be working, now, to examine different possible scenarios and to develop contingency plans in case of further school and college closures.’ 

They added: ‘The current over-reliance on end of course exams increases student anxiety and fails to give a fair reflection of what students can achieve.

‘All options should be considered to ensure that young people are rewarded for their achievements, supported to fulfil their potential and not held back due to their background.’  

The calls by the NEU, who earlier this month threatened to keep schools closed in September if safety standards for coronavirus weren’t met, comes after top universities called on the Government for additional funds to take on more students.

Universities also called for the cap on the number of pupils studying medicine to be lifted amid fears ministers face a £3billion bailout.

Thousands of students are scrambling to get places at their first choice university after the Government’s screeching u-turn on A-Level results means they now have the grades to get into their first choice places.

But top schools are struggling with the sheer volume of demand as the 55,000 who accepted a place at another university or bagged a new course at clearing are now abandon those decisions to try and get into their top choice.

A number of universities, such as Cambridge, have already said that some students will have to defer until next year.

The government previously urged universities to honour the offers they made to pupils, but Vice-Chancellors were last night in talks with ministers to secure additional funding to take on thousands of additional students.

Meanwhile there are fears that students leaving lower-ranked institutions to go to their first choice could leave them vulnerable financially, with research from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) suggesting this could cost £140million.

They previously warned the loss of the university sector in total could run to as high as anywhere between £3billion and £19billion.

In a further briefing note today the think tank warned that while leading universities would now be ‘awash’ with students, many lower-ranked universities risked losing a substantial share of their intake, which could be ‘financially crippling’.

Report authors Jack Britton and Ben Waltmann said: ‘Lower-ranked universities could dip into the pool of potential students who got no offers or have not yet applied.

‘These students will have much better grades than usual this year, and many might be interested in going to university given the exceptionally tough labour market.

‘Attracting these students could help the lowest-ranked universities avoid large losses. It would also pose a new challenge, as many of these students could be underprepared for their courses, especially having missed out on the experience of actually sitting their A Level exams.’

It comes as the government has been urged to take on more students at medical school, where places are highly-competitive and much of the cost of training doctors is met by the taxpayer.

Institutions are currently in a bind because the number of places at medical schools are capped by the government because of cost – the amount to train doctors exceeds the amount paid by undergraduates in fees – and there are restrictions on NHS work placements.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock this morning told Sky News he acknowledged calls to increase student places and promised that the Government is working on the issue.

A number of students who were planning to study medicine had their grades lowered by the standardised algorithm.

The government has removed the cap for other subjects so universities can take on more students, but kept it in place for medicine and dentistry.

The u-turn by under-pressure Education Secretary Gavin Williamson means students now have significantly improved grades and can try and get into the school of their choice.

Universities UK has written a letter to Mr Williamson to seek ‘urgent assurances’ that he is talking to the Department of Health about increasing the number of medical school places from the current number of 7,500, as reported by the BBC.

The letter also said: ‘The role of universities in training the medical workforce is essential for all regions and nations of the UK, as clearly shown by our members’ response to the Covid-19 pandemic.’

The Royal College of GPs and British Medical Association have also backed calls for more places for medics.

But Dr Helena McKeown, BMA representative body chair, said additional places would require more funding and support from the government.

She said: ‘The BMA has long-campaigned for widening participation in medicine so that all those with the ability and desire to become doctors are given the opportunity to do so. The medical workforce needs to be far more reflective of the diverse patient population it serves, and following the U-turn by Government earlier this week, we have urged medical schools to review the applications of those who were earlier denied places due to the unfair grading process.

‘The UK is vastly short of doctors so increasing the number of medics in training makes sense, however this must be followed up with support and funding for both the universities sector and the NHS further down the line.

‘Extra students will require more clinical placements during medical school, more places in the foundation programme for new doctors, and ultimately the need to create more jobs when they fully qualify.

‘We cannot afford to have new doctors finding themselves unemployed in five or 10 years’ time.’ 

The University and College Union (UCU) and National Union of Students (NUS) have also signed a joint letter to Mr Williamson, warning the lifting of the student cap – which had aimed to prevent institutions from over-recruiting to make up for lost revenue as a result of Covid-19 – would ‘remove one of the only interventions that the government has made to help mitigate the financial impact of the Covid crisis on universities’.

The letter said: ‘While it is still unclear exactly what the distribution of domestic students across higher education will be, it is widely anticipated that institutions will move as much as possible to honour their offers.

‘This will likely lead to expanded recruitment at high-tariff institutions at the expense of lower-tariff universities, shifting the financial pain from the Covid crisis onto many of the institutions that play a vital role in widening participation and social mobility.’ 

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