A-Levels: Anger rises over 'unfair' exam results as grades lower than predicted - BBC Newsnight


a-level and b-tech results day is never


stress-free but this year things have

been of a different order

sets of results for exams which never

took place joy yes but despair too

and despair of a different kind to

normal a sinking feeling that this time

the rights

and wrongs weren't the students answers

but the system itself

first amidst the anger we shouldn't

forget how well many students did

overall a level results in england are

higher at grade a and above compared to


but because this year's results are

based on teacher assessment or cags

there's a problem

of the examinations regulator says the

teachers are too optimistic

for a third of candidate predictions

accurate for half

and pessimistic for a sixth so often

devised an

algorithm to correct for this to

standardize results with previous years

if they hadn't it was predicted this

year would have been the most generous


and their ministers say would lack

credibility but the problem is that it's

led to some

substantial and unexpected downgrades

over the past three years we've entered

30 students

three years ago one of those students

got a u-grade because of that u grade

three years ago

the the algorithm has made the decision

that one of our students this year

has to have a u grade there was nobody

in that class

that was anywhere near eu grades they've

downgraded somebody from

a d-grade to a u-grade so

i get what's happening in terms of

trying to keep things

standardized but at the

the the chalk face at the the interface

between that algorithm in a real

person's life

it's impossible to try and explain that

to a student and to try and justify that

that to a student

though poorer pupils have done better in

aggregate private schools have done

even better than usual why the answer is

on page 126

of the offqual report more reliance has

to be placed on cags when awarding

grades for centers with small cohorts

this is because it would be indefensible

to statistically standardize when the

number of students is very small

in other words students studying in

small classes studying

niche esoteric subject areas were simply

more likely to be given

their teacher assessment grades because

there just isn't enough data to

standardize to compare

them from year to year and what sort of

schools tend to have smaller classes

with niche esoteric subject areas

well that will be private schools but

obviously one thing led to another

methusen tiagrajara is one of those who

had he gone to private school

maybe in a very different place right

now he had an offer to read medicine at

cambridge was predicted 4a stars but was


the offer has been withdrawn no one's

ever gone cambridge in my school

and yeah i was my school was hopeful

that i would be the first one to go


and you know that's like i wanted to

make them proud that's why i kept

working hard and

i wanted to make everyone that believed

in me proud of my parents my

school and most importantly myself right

like i believed in myself i knew i could

get those grades if i

actually did the exams this was always

going to be difficult but it's

undoubtedly been made more confusing by

gavin williamson's last minute inclusion

of mocks into the appeals process a

process which as a result is still being

worked out

either way the current situation risks

making things worse long term

for the poorest the difficult thing for

for people to see both last week and

this week

is seeing talented young people you know

really promising young people

who are being kind of artificially held

back because of the school that they

attend and that really cuts to the bone

and it's it's nothing short of a

disaster for social mobility

expect more heartbreak next week with

gcses widely expected to include more

profound downgrades still

in the meantime will a conservative

government stick to a regime which sits

uncomfortably with its philosophy which

prioritizes the system

over the individual now that's an essay

question worth pondering

louis goodall and i'm joined by john

jones head teacher of barnhill community


and kate green labour shadow education

secretary we did invite the government

to come onto the program to respond to

the thousands of students whose futures

have been thrown up in the air

and to explain how the marking down of

almost 40 percent of a-level results

sits with their promise to level up

but nobody wanted to appear but however

we do have john jones with us thank you

very much for joining us

i mean you heard uh the last comment

there talented young people

are being held back now and i wonder

what's happened in your school

well it's been a tremendously difficult

day uh in schools across the country i'm

sure and uh

ours was certainly a good example of

that what we have seen

in the positive aspects is just

genuinely relief from students who've

got their places at university and can

move on

not the usual jubilation that we're so

used to on results days

and in the more challenging areas we've

seen students denied access to their

university places

because of the algorithm that's

generated their grades and yes

through no fault of their own this

algorithm yet again tell me

i mean you know mental stress for the

students have already gone through a

very stressful year

it's been a tremendously difficult time

for them and the anxiety that students

have had to this point

uh is in no way relieved by what uh what

has been breaking today but

just exactly what's happened at your

school in terms of grades am i writing


55 were expecting b that's right

and it was 28 yeah yeah and 25

was meant to get a and that was down to

10 percent

why was it such a big difference well as

many schools

we have seen rapid improvement in a

short space of time but the algorithm


results from some time ago from when

students would have started courses in

2015 and finished in 2017 and 80.

it was making the assumption then that a

school i mean it seems an extraordinary

assumption to me

the school doesn't change over a

five-year period i mean tell me the

difference in your school

well we've seen a very very different

set of results in 2019 in fact we moved

from the bottom half of the national

tables into the

well into the top 10 percent and so our

trajectory really should have been very

much more positive but the algorithm

hasn't taken that into consideration

and so actually we've shot up in 2019

but then uh sort of disappeared down


thanks to the historic grades and

realistically the school is a completely

different place now

so presumably every single pupil who's

been underserved will appeal or do you


what does know they're going to the

system or do the individual students

appeal to the school appeals the

students can't appeal but the school can

on their behalf

and you will do it for everybody that's

right what i'm looking to do and i've

spoken with off collinson boards today

and had some encouraging signs that

we will be able to appeal on mass yeah

the idea of an encouraging sign rather

than just

yes you will be able to yes yeah well i

think there will be some some hoops to

jump through that's for sure but

and what about the cost of all this well

thankfully a lot of boards have capped

it for a mass

appeal at 120 pounds so it shouldn't

have too

harsh an effect on the school's budget

but we must remember we haven't yet been

refunded from a lot of boards

from the entry fees that we paid in uh

for the summer

series because that is a very very

significant amount of school's budget

so wait a minute explain exactly what

you you you you have paid in advance

that's right yes we pay for the entries

which happens in between february and


and then all the exams for all the exams

sometimes we pay for resets

next year or remarks but we haven't yet

had that money back i'm hoping by the

end of august

we'll have more information from the

boards and have that refunded now

you know many different reports say that

teachers generally over predict 75

over predict what pupils might get yeah


it to wait for that as it were is

reasonable isn't it when it's such a

when it's such a good factor every

single year that teachers do

over predict they do and in their

defense not all teachers are examining

those they won't know the intricacies of

how an exam system works they won't have


moderation directly in the way that exam

boards do it they won't be subject to

standardization so

it's a huge beast the examination system

and so to expect teachers to understand

all the sort of uh

redistribution of grades and the

boundaries and things is quite


do you think it should be like scotland

you should just have actually only gone

on the graves and not the moderations i

think it would bring its own problems

that way what i'm looking for is

the sort of flexibility in the system at

the moment by which

schools with good cases and students

with good cases can appeal give them the

foundation so they can move on in life

thank you so much now

turning into kate green first of all

what do you think of what's happened


well first of all i think it's been

incredibly distressing and upsetting for

many many students for their families

and for their teachers

and they go into tomorrow still really


about their futures and i think that's

really a

horrible way to have treated young

people who've already seen so much

disruption in their education over the

last few months

we've got all sorts of uncertainty over

the next few days for these young people

we still don't really know

how the appeals process will work we're

seeing quite

uneven outcomes from this moderation


some of which john just referred to

private schools or schools with smaller

classes seem to be doing quite well

large comprehensives or sixth form

colleges less well

and this inability properly to take

account of where school has improved


or for that matter where you've got one

or two children in the school who


outperform their class as a whole and

the system isn't really very sensitive

to taking

account of that so it's it's decision by

computer but i'm afraid it's a very bad

set of decisions for an awful lot of

children and young people

on the basis of all the different things

you've just said that are problematic

and there's a set of very bad decisions

wouldn't it be better if the government

followed scotland

and overturned the moderations just got

the moderations and

moved them out the way well i think

we've got to keep that and other options

on the table i think we

also need to see if we can have a more

robust appeals process

and an affordable appeals process i was

interested to hear what john said about

that and it is important schools are

reimbursed for exam fees

uh for exams that haven't been taken i

think it's really important that we

actually can see

the differential impact uh that the

model has had on different kinds of

students my point is that

would a labor government then would a

labor government have done what scotland

has done

and remove that element and made it a

much cleaner albeit

some pupils would have got better grades

perhaps than they might have

got with moderation at least it would

have been clean and it would surely have

been fairer

well there's no perfect system given the

circumstance we're in i think it is

important that we look at all the

options and find the best option for

this year's students they've had a very

very tough few months

and we do owe it to these young people

to give them the very best chance in


and to make sure that they're not

disadvantaged so why what is labor

policy as far as this is concerned

because clear stamina was rather vague

today and i wonder

what labor is actually saying should


right now well right now i think we want

to look very carefully at who's been

disadvantaged how we can make sure they

have access to a very clear

and fair appeal system that we look at

the data on schools that have done

particularly badly compared with what

they expected and understand why that is

and find the best solution for those

young people

and that's what we are working on so let

me just say would you

agree that disadvantaged pupils

have been further disadvantaged because

you alluded to this very briefly

in independent schools in private

schools if class sizes are below

15 and often they are and there's a

whole range of subjects as louis gooda

was saying that often are offered in

private schools but aren't available in


if that was removed they mean there was

no moderation for under 15 class eyes

should that be removed immediately

i think that's a real concern and it's


got the potential to bake in inequality

and unfairness

so i think it's really important the

government finds a way to address that

now you said yourself no system is uh

perfect and i want to put you

what i'd put to john jones that teachers

over predict and we've also heard

most recently in july this year from the

commons education select committee the

teachers are sometimes biased you know

they're biased particularly against

poorer pupils

pupils from different ethnic backgrounds

so teachers aren't perfect themselves

at the way they judge their students


yes that's certainly a concern and it's

one reason why it's so important that we

have a really robust appeals system and

it's very

uncomfortable that students don't even

know yet all the details

of how they could ask their school to

access this system and in fact students

themselves as individuals as john just


can't access it unlike the situation in

scotland where they could have made an

individual appeal

so i think it's really important that

the government looks at all the tools in

the toolbox to treat these young people

fairly to give them the very best

opportunity to show what they've

achieved and what their

what potential they have and one of the

concerns certainly must be that

there will be outliers there will be

assessments that don't properly reflect

that students achievement and attainment

and we absolutely need to make sure that

every possible way of measuring that

correctly and fairly

is addressed and used