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Executive Leader Cllr Brenda Warrington

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Councillor Brenda Warrington, Executive Leader of Tameside Council

Answers Needed Over Results Farce

Tuesday, 18 August 2020

Last Thursday, as happens every year, many of our young people took the first step in the rest of their lives as they received their A-Level results. Unfortunately what should have been a day of celebration for many turned into a day of confusion, frustration and despair, as many pupils were awarded grades lower than what they thought they could be and what their teachers believed they would achieve.

It’s necessary to take a moment to explain what happened. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, schools across the country have been closed for several months and all exams cancelled. In order to provide results for this year, teachers were instead asked what grades they expected their pupils to get. These were then run through a computer programme which ranked pupils by ability and by how well their school or college had performed in exams in recent years. This was done, we were told, to ensure that national results remained consistent with previous years.

This computer programme is what has caused the problems that many faced. While the A-Level results effectively mirrored previous years on a national scale, at the level of the individual many have had their grades unfairly lowered through no fault of their own.  To give just two examples; an extremely bright and hard-working child may have received worse results than they expected because their school’s exam results have been historically poor, or pupils in a school that has improved its performance significantly since last year’s exams would not have this reflected in the grades awarded. It is estimated that over 280,000 A-Level results in England were downgraded by the computer programme, almost 40% of the total of all the exam grades awarded.

To make things even worse it appears that there was some serious inequality in which grades have been affected. Private schools in well-off, affluent parts of the country emerged mostly unscathed, while pupils and schools in more deprived parts of the countries were disproportionately hit.  Head teachers and MPs from every party condemned the results process, and many young people even marched in protest against what they (quite rightly) saw as an attack on their futures.


Let’s be clear about what has happened here; the education and career ambitions of tens, or even hundreds, of thousands of young people were put under threat. Not because they underperformed in exams, but because somewhere a computer said “No”.

I am glad that the government has now abandoned this flawed method, and has turned to determining exam grades based on what their teachers predicted their students would get.   Teachers know their pupils best, so their professional judgement is surely the fairest way to decide results in the absence of exams. If this means that exam grades nationally are higher this year, as some in the government appear to be concerned by, then so be it.

This has been a colossal mess. Worse still, it could have very easily been avoided. The Scottish exam results, which came out at the beginning of this month, faced the exact same problem for the exact same reasons. It would have been simple for the government to look at the warning signs in another part of the United Kingdom and make the necessary changes before it was too late. I am also concerned that while A-Level and GCSE results will now be based on teacher’s predictions, the same does not yet appear to be true for BTECs and other vocational qualifications. These are every bit as important as A-Levels, and I support Mayor Andy Burnham’s move to take legal action against the government unless all our young people, no matter what exams they’ve sat, are guaranteed the opportunity to show their true skills and talent. 

Young people are already facing a difficult journey to their future due to the economic damage caused by the coronavirus pandemic, we should not be adding to their problems with unfair exam results. This is not how a country should be run, and this is not how life-changing decisions should be made.


Posted by: Executive Leader

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