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Now all schools will be able to appeal for FREE against A-level grades

Schools will not be charged for appealing against A-level grades amid fears that this week’s marking fiasco will be repeated for children receiving their GCSE results next week.

Under-fire education secretary Gavin Williamson said that the government would cover the appeal costs to ensure that head teachers are not put off from making appeals by the cost.

The government is facing a storm after nearly 40 per cent of results were downgraded by the computer model deployed when exams had to be cancelled due to the coronavirus crisis.  

Mr Williamson told The Times the move to cover the cost of appeals, which will cost between £8million and  £15million, will help to avoid ‘shocking injustices’ where schools choose not to act for pupils.

For each pupil that appeals, exam boards initially charge between £9.50 and £25, but in more contentious cases this can rise to as high as £150, and schools have the option to pass this cost on to the parents. The fee is refunded if the appeal is successful. 

Around the same proportion of GCSEs as A-levels are expected to be downgraded when results come out next week. 

Williamson said that the number of appeals would be significantly higher this year following the marking fiasco, and that it was ‘vital’ that schools act if they are concerned about results received by their pupils.

‘I do not want a youngster to feel they are in a situation where there is a strong and legitimate case for grounds for appeal, but an appeal is not made on the grounds of cost,’ he told the newspaper. ‘That would be a shocking injustice.’

‘You will have obviously a large number of appeals. But I would rather have a strong, robust, fair appeals process that makes sure that youngsters get the grades that they deserve as against being in a situation where there is an injustice that carries on.’

He added that there would be ‘no U-turn’ on the grading system that was used, because doing so would ‘severely erode’ the value of qualifications, and lead to grade inflations. 

Around the same proportion of GCSEs as A-levels are expected to be downgraded when results come out next week.

Up to two million of the grades could be dragged down, researchers say, in what would be a repeat of the A-level marking debacle.

Research organisation the FFT Education Datalab calculated 35 to 40 per cent of grades given by teachers are likely to be downgraded by Ofqual’s computer moderating system.

On Thursday, it emerged that 39 per cent of teacher-assessed A-levels had been downgraded. 

If the GCSE system works in the same way as the A-level algorithm, which adjusted each school’s performance so that it was in line with the last three years’ results, then lower income students will be disproportionately affected again.

But the impact is likely to be even worse because nearly every pupil takes GCSEs, while only around half take A-levels. 

Philip Nye, a researcher at the Datalab, told The Guardian: ‘There are more disadvantaged pupils taking GCSEs than there are at A-levels, so potentially downgrades could be more widespread.’

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: ‘We fear this will happen again next Thursday but on a larger scale because many more GCSEs are taken.’

An Ofqual spokesman said: ‘We extensively tested possible variations of the model to ensure we selected the one which gives students the most accurate results possible.’ 

Robert Halfon, the Conservative chairman of the Commons Education Committee, earlier expressed concern that Ofqual’s model to moderate A-level results penalised disadvantaged students.

He called on the regulator to publish details of the algorithm it used to make its calculations.

‘I am worried about it because some figures suggest that disadvantaged students have been penalised again,’ he told BBC Radio 4’s The World At One.

‘I am also worried about further education colleges, because they have been improving in recent years and yet they seem also to have suffered under this grading system.

‘If the model has penalised disadvantaged groups this is very serious and if it has disadvantaged colleges that has to be looked at. Ofqual will have to adjust the grades.’ 

Ofqual blamed teachers for suggesting ‘implausibly high’ A-Level grades today as Keir Starmer joined the backlash by demanding standardisation is ditched. 

Ofqual had estimated the A-Level pass rate would be 12 points higher if teacher assessments alone were used. 

And a spokesman told the Telegraph today that the ‘standard applied by different schools and colleges varies greatly’.

‘A rare few centres put in implausibly high judgments, including one which submitted all A* and A grades for students in two subjects, where previously there had been normal distribution,’ the spokesman said.  

Boris Johnson and Gavin Williamson have both defended the outcome as ‘robust’ and ‘credible’, while Ofqual pointed out that there would have been massive grade inflation if moderation had not been used.  

But Sir Keir today turned up the heat by calling for England to follow Scotland’s example by scrapping the standardisation altogether, and relying on estimates from teachers. 

‘The unprecedented and chaotic circumstances created by the UK Government’s mishandling of education during recent months mean that a return to teacher assessments is now the best option available,’ the Labour leader said.

‘No young person should be at a detriment due to Government incompetence.

‘Time is running out. We need action in days, not weeks.’

When the huge U-turn was made on a similar computer model in Scotland, the Higher pass rate soared by 14 percentage points from last year. 

Meanwhile, the equalities watchdog has threatened to step in unless Ofqual ensures that children from disadvantaged backgrounds and minority groups do not miss out. 

Shadow education secretary Kate Green warned there could be a ‘deluge’ of appeals from students unhappy with their A-level results.

She said it may prove impossible to get them all processed in time for students to take up their university places.

Liberal Democrat education spokeswoman Layla Moran called for Mr Williamson to step down from his role with immediate effect.

She said: ‘Gavin Williamson is an education secretary out of his depth and out of excuses. He must take responsibility for his mistakes and step down with immediate effect.

‘Our young people and our country cannot afford these blunders to continue into September, ahead of a potential second wave.’ 

By Josh White and Sarah Harris for the Daily Mail 

Students face being forced to take a gap year after Oxford, Cambridge and other universities said they may not have room for them – even if they successfully challenge their A-level grades.

Almost four in ten results were downgraded by exam watchdog Ofqual from the marks submitted by teachers.

This meant thousands of upset students could have missed out on their university offers, with many planning to appeal.

But the entire appeals system is mired in confusion, with little clarity on what form it will take and how long it will last.

Schools, through which appeals have to be made, face a race against time to ensure their pupils can be regraded before the September 7 deadline set by Ucas to meet university offer conditions.

But even if students successfully challenge their results, leading universities said yesterday they may have to defer places until next year as they are almost full due to Covid-19 restrictions.

Oxford said it would not be possible to meet ‘ongoing social distancing restrictions’ if it went above its maximum intake.

A Cambridge University spokesman said: ‘Regrettably there are physical limits to the numbers of students we can accommodate.’

The university said it will honour every offer where grades are met, but may need to ask students with revised results to defer entry to autumn 2021.

University College London has also warned that any revised grades that come in after September 18 will mean a year’s deferral.

Although this is 11 days after the Ucas deadline, it is still not clear whether exam boards will be able to deal with the expected flood of appeals before either date.

The Department for Education is set to tell schools it will cover any costs associated with exam appeals. They are normally charged if appeals are rejected.

Schools Minister Nick Gibb will also lead an appeals taskforce, working with Ofqual and exam boards. But Education Secretary Gavin Williamson remains opposed to a Scottish-style U-turn where students are given original grades based on teachers’ assessments, sources insisted.

Universities Minister Michelle Donelan has told establishments to hold places for applicants challenging A-level grades until they receive their appeal outcome.

But schools, colleges and universities are still unclear how the new appeals process will work and what the likely timescale will be, despite there being little over three weeks until the deadline.

There is a further layer of uncertainty because the Government announced only on Tuesday that A-level and GCSE students will be able to use results in valid mock exams for challenges.

Ofqual has said it is ‘working urgently’ to set out how mocks will form the basis of an appeal, but further details will not be ready until next week.

On the suggestion that some students could be asked to defer places, Labour MP Justin Madders tweeted: ‘Haven’t these kids gone through enough already?’

On results day on Thursday, Ofqual revealed that 39.1 per cent of teachers’ estimates for pupils in England were adjusted down by one grade or more.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: ‘We would encourage universities to show some flexibility.’ Saying these were ‘unique circumstances’ for students, he insisted: ‘They deserve a spirit of generosity.’

Hillary Gyebi-Ababio, of the National Union of Students, said: ‘The Government’s failure to ensure an adequate and timely appeals process was in place before A-level results day was wholly avoidable, and they must now act to address this crisis.’

Figures show fewer students than last year have so far found places through clearing.

More than 13,000 applicants have been accepted on to degree courses through the annual process that began on Thursday morning – down 24 per cent on the same point last year.

However, one Oxford college announced it would be accepting all students who had received offers, regardless of their grades.

Worcester College said: ‘We made offers in 2020 to our most diverse cohort ever, and in response to the uncertainties… we have confirmed the places of all our UK offer-holders, irrespective of their A-level results.’ 

Thousands of schools are poised to ignore trade union ‘scaremongering’ and welcome children back full-time from next month, a Daily Mail audit has found.

Town halls across England have worked with schools to draw up detailed plans on how to keep pupils and staff safe and have overwhelmingly pledged a return to a form of normality by the end of September.

The confidence is in stark contrast to the pessimistic tones of education unions but echoes government pledges to get pupils back in the classroom as quickly as possible.

However, concerns have been raised about a lack of clarity on what schools should do in the event of further local, or national, lockdowns, with some pledging to remain open and others warning of immediate closures.

The Daily Mail contacted more than 50 local councils with responsibility for state schools in their area. Of the 19 that responded in detail – representing almost 3,000 schools – all but one pledged to have children back in full-time education by the end of next month. Councils said risk assessments have been undertaken and safety measures will include teaching in class and year-group bubbles, staggered lunch breaks and one-way systems in school buildings.

For example, in the Cheshire East area around 170 schools will welcome pupils back next month. And in Leicester, which has already been subject to a local lockdown, a council spokesman said ‘almost all’ schools intend to have all pupils in class by September 4.

Unions have insisted that more research needs to be done before pupils head back to the classroom. But in May, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson accused them of ‘scaremongering’ and insisted a return would be safe.

This week, he said a return carried few risks, citing an unpublished Public Health England study, only for reports to emerge that there may be a difference in virus transmission between primary and secondary school children.

But official PHE guidance continues to advise that there is little evidence of schools driving coronavirus infections in local communities.

The National Education Union has drawn up a list of 200 safety demands before schools return – and urged teachers to ‘escalate’ matters if concerns are not addressed. But critics described the demands as ‘nit-picking’.

Commenting on the Mail’s findings, Tory MP Robert Halfon, chairman of the Commons education committee, said: ‘If you were to solely listen to the unions you would think the return to school full-time was impossible, but this audit has shown the attitude from schools and teachers is that if it’s not impossible there must be a way to do it.’

As chaos reigned on A-level results day, one might have assumed the Department for Education headquarters would have been a hive of activity.

Yet only 3 per cent of staff in London turned up to the seven-floor office in Whitehall on Thursday, the Daily Mail can reveal.

The beleaguered Education Secretary Gavin Williamson was among just 62 people seen entering the 2,000 capacity building. The dismal attendance on one of the department’s busiest days appears to be further proof that civil servants are continuing to ignore calls to return to their desks.

Mr Williamson has faced mounting criticism throughout the pandemic having struggled to assert authority over teaching unions in getting children back to school.

His reputation took a further beating this week after an 11th-hour change to the way A-levels were graded saw him issue a humiliating apology.

And now the Mail – which has monitored the number of staff entering the Department’s building between 7am and 11am over the past few weeks – can reveal just a fraction have returned to their desks.

The 62 staff recorded arriving on Thursday is in fact a marked improvement on the previous week, when just two dozen turned up. A source said the building was so empty at one point that the lifts were said to be stopping only on the ministerial floor.

For weeks, Boris Johnson has been urging workers across the country to return to their offices – including the Government’s own 430,000-strong workforce. There are fears city centre shops and eateries – which rely on footfall from office workers – face ruin if more employees do not return.

And yet, despite calls to lead by example, the Cabinet Office has admitted just one in five civil servants has so far done so.

Attendance records across other Whitehall departments also remain low.

Just 57 people were observed entering the headquarters of the Department of Work and Pensions at the six-floor Caxton House in London on Wednesday.

Though this is higher than the 33 recorded last week, it still equates to just 3 per cent of the 1,700 staff member.

A Government spokesman said: ‘We are consulting closely with employees on ending the default that civil servants should work from home and have ensured workplaces are Covid-secure so civil servants can return safely.’ 

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