Government must be prepared to intervene over exam results, children’s tsar says

Camilla Turner
·4-min read
Anne Longfield said that there is a “real worry” that children from the most deprived backgrounds will “miss out” on the grades they deserve
Anne Longfield said that there is a “real worry” that children from the most deprived backgrounds will “miss out” on the grades they deserve

The Government should be prepared to intervene over exam results, the Children’s Commissioner has said as she warns that it will be a “complete disaster” if disadvantaged pupils fare worse this year.

Anne Longfield said that there is a “real worry” that children from the most deprived backgrounds will “miss out” on the grades they deserve after exams were axed due to coronavirus. 

Her remarks come ahead of A-level results day on Thursday when thousands of students will receive their grades, the majority of which have been determined by a statistical model as well as their position in the rank order drawn up by teachers.

There are rising concerns that the model – which takes into account pupils' past performance as well as their school’s historic grades - will punish children from poor communities.

Fears were raised on Sunday night that students whose marks are downgraded face missing out on university places while exam boards assess appeals.

Students appealing their results must be awarded a higher grader by Sept 7 in order to gain access to their chosen university. But none of the three major exam boards were able to commit to processing all appeals by that date, according to the Daily Mail.

John Swinney, the Scottish education minister, will announce a major school exams climbdown on Tuesday after the results day the furore left him on the brink of losing his job.

The SNP will admit it "got it wrong" over the system used to grant this year’s National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher results which saw close to 125,000 students’ grades downgraded from their teachers’ predictions.

The head of England’s exam regulator has so far defended this year’s controversial A-level and GCSE grading system, claiming that allowing teachers’ predicted grades to go unchecked would have created “perpetual unfairness”.

Roger Taylor, chairman of the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual) insisted that using a statistical model to predict results  was the “fairest possible way” to award marks.

But Ms Longfield said that children are “dismayed” and “worried” that their grades will be determined by an algorithm that “doesn’t know them”.

Speaking on Times Radio, she said: “Their faith was in teachers in terms of making their assessment because they knew them best.

 “There is a real worry here that the most disadvantaged children will be the ones that will miss out, that those in schools that have not been faring well or indeed those with a history of poor achievement will be downgraded by the algorithm.”

 She said the Government needs to “keep a very close eye” on this in the coming days, adding that ministers must not hesitate to intervene or take further measures.

 “It would be a complete disaster if disadvantaged children have that disadvantage somehow enshrined in these results over future days,” Ms Longfield said.

 “We need to find ways to help and to ensure those appeals come from children who are missing out.”

 Scottish results day last week provoked a furious backlash after it emerged that close to 125,000 students had their grades downgraded from their teachers’ predictions.

 The system devised by the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) saw thousands of pupils have their grades lowered by a moderation process that partly relied on past performance of their schools.

Data from the SQA revealed that those from poorer backgrounds were significantly more likely to see crucial grades lowered than those from the richest areas.

Those from the poorest parts of Scotland were more than twice as likely to see their Highers grade lowered than those from the richest areas.

Nicola Sturgeon and Mr Swinney spent much of last week defending the system. However, The Daily Telegraph understands that ministers are planning a u-turn after the Scottish Greens made clear that they were prepared to back a vote of no confidence in the Deputy First Minister this week, if significant changes were not agreed.

 Ofqual said that their early analysis shows that students from all backgrounds, including more disadvantaged and black, ethnic minority and Asian communities, have not been disadvantaged by this year’s grading process.