English school-leavers to get grades on earlier results day

No algorithm to be used to allocate grades following debacle that threw university admissions into chaos last year

February 25, 2021

Results day for students in England will be moved forward this summer to allow extra time for appeals over grades awarded and determined by teachers, with no algorithm used, the education secretary has announced.

Universities will hope that this year’s moves on allocating grades in the absence of formal exams – cancelled for a second year because of the Covid-19 pandemic – will give them a more stable year in the admissions process, following last year’s debacle.

In 2020, Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, opted to use an algorithm to allocate grades. The decision created a storm of outrage after the algorithm unfairly hit many students and advantaged those at private schools. Mr Williamson then abandoned the algorithm and allowed the use of teacher-predicted grades. But the number of students with higher-than-expected grades threw university admissions into chaos.

The Department for Education said this year’s move would mean that pupils were assessed only on “what they have been taught” and would put “fairness and flexibility” at the heart of the system.

Results day for A levels had previously been pushed back by three weeks, to the week of 23 August, in the expectation that in-person exams would be held. But it has now been moved forward to 9 August, with the aim of providing “additional time for appeals to be completed, so students reliant on those outcomes to achieve their university offer have the best chance of accessing a place”, the DfE said.

Every student will have the right to appeal their grade, it also said.

“Teachers will be able to draw on a range of evidence when determining grades, including the optional use of questions provided by exam boards, as well as mock exams, coursework, or other work completed as part of a pupil’s course, such as essays or in-class tests,” the DfE said. “No algorithm will be used.”

“Teachers will submit grades to exam boards by 18 June, allowing as much teaching time as possible before teachers make their assessments,” it added.

Mr Williamson said: “Young people have shown incredible resilience over the last year, continuing with their learning amidst unprecedented challenges while the country battles with this pandemic. Those efforts deserve to be fairly rewarded.

“That’s why we are providing the fairest possible system for those pupils, asking those who know them best – their teachers – to determine their grades, with our sole aim to make sure all young people can progress to the next stage of their education or career.”

Cat Turhan, a policy analyst at the Russell Group, said bringing forward results day “will help universities better support students by giving more time to process results, make decisions and arrange crucial onboarding activities, while still allowing time for appeals”.

“These positive changes will support our universities with robust and fair decision-making, and allow them to be as flexible as possible to help ensure students are not disadvantaged by changes to assessments in 2021,” Ms Turhan said.

john.morgan@timeshighereducation.com

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