Number of students given university places RISES nearly 3%

‘After Cs and Bs all year… I got U, D, D’: A-level pupils go into meltdown as they open downgraded results – while number of students given university places RISES nearly 3% to 358,860

The total number of students accepted on to UK degree courses has risen nearly 3 per cent, it was revealed today as A-level pupils received their results.

University admissions service Ucas said 358,860 people from across the UK have been accepted so far this year – a 2.9 per cent increase compared to results day 2019.

One of the first students to open her results this morning was Megan from Wyke College in Hull, East Yorkshire, who was left frustrated after receiving an A and two Bs – but needed three As to get into Leeds University.

She told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: ‘I’m a bit disappointed, and I think I could have got my three As if I did my exams. I think I deserved three As so it’s just annoying. I’m just hoping Leeds will let me in with these grades.’

Megan’s headmaster Paul Britton said: ‘We get amazing results at Wyke, loads of our students have got fantastic achievements this year, but it’s just completely unfair on students like Megan.

‘Some sort of standardisation process has meant that she hasn’t got the grades that she should’ve got. Yes, hopefully you’ll still get into university, but it’s still not right that these young people haven’t got the correct draw.’

Meanwhile Abbie Cooper, a student at Coleg Gwent near Newport in South Wales, tweeted this morning: ‘After getting Cs and Bs in mocks all year and in work, these are the grades I get… WHAT THE F***?’  

Emily Wallace (centre) smiles as students at Norwich School in Norfolk receive their A-level results this morning

One of the first students to open her results this morning was Megan from Wyke College in Hull, East Yorkshire. She received an A and two Bs but needed three As to get into Leeds University 

A sixth form student is embraced after receiving her A-Level results at The Crossley Heath Grammar School in Halfax today

Twins Rosy (left) and Teddy Valentine (right) react as students at Norwich School receive their A-level results this morning

She then posted an email screenshot showing that she had got a U in biology and Ds in psychology and politics, with the college saying that staff ‘hope that you’re delighted with your results today’.

A student in Northampton opened her results alongside two of her fellow pupils live on Sky News. She was overjoyed upon opening her envelope and said: ‘I might cry. Really good. I got an A star in my EPQ and was expecting an A. It’s what I wanted. I’m so happy.

Meanwhile Abbie Cooper, a student at Coleg Gwent near Newport in South Wales, tweeted this morning: ‘After getting Cs and Bs in mocks all year and in work, these are the grades I get… WHAT THE F***?’

Her fellow student added: ‘I’m really, really happy. I got BCB, I’m happy with that.’

The third was equally thrilled and said: ‘I’m really happy. I’ve got enough to get into university so I’m really happy.’

‘It’s definitely been weighing on my mind a lot more because of what happened in Scotland. I was a lot more nervous than I would have been.’

Some 316,730 of the 358,860 accepted have got into their first choice – up 2.7 per cent on the same point in 2019. The number of students accepted onto nursing courses has increased by 13.2 per cent, to 24,750.

So far, a total of 415,600 students have a confirmed place on an undergraduate course in the UK. This is a 1.6 per cent increase on results day last year, and follows three years of decreases.

Four per cent, or 14,370, of placed UK students are currently planning to defer starting their course, which is the same proportion as at this point last year.

Meanwhile 34,310 international students from outside the EU have been accepted (up 2 per cent), while acceptances from students within the EU have fallen by 15.2 per cent, to 22,430.

Ucas added that a record 20,280 pupils aged 18 from the most disadvantaged backgrounds in England have been accepted into university – up 7.3 per cent on last year’s results day.

This means 18.8 per cent of all young people from the most disadvantaged backgrounds are due to start an undergraduate degree – a new high for results day.

In Wales, 17.4 per cent from the most disadvantaged backgrounds (1,310 students) have been accepted, and in Northern Ireland the proportion is 18.3 per cent (790 students) – these are also both new records.

Across the UK, 30.2 per cent of all 18-year-olds, or 210,260 students, have been accepted through Ucas – another high for results day despite there being 1.5 per cent fewer 18-year-olds in the UK population than last year.

The equivalent figure for 2019 was 28.2 per cent. Clearing opened on July 6, and 7,600 people have already used it to secure their place, including 3,860 who applied directly into Clearing.

Matilda Auty reacts as students at The Mount School in York receive their A-level results this morning

Ben Millett reacts with his father (back to the camera) as students at Norwich School receive their A-level results today

A sixth form student reacts after receiving his A-Level results at The Crossley Heath Grammar School in Halifax this morning

Benita Stipp (centre) and Mimi Ferguson (left) react as students at Norwich School receive their A-Level results today

In total in 2019, a record 73,320 people were placed through Clearing, with 19,640 applying for a course for the first time directly into Clearing.

Clare Marchant, Ucas chief executive, said: ‘In a year unlike any other, students should be proud of their achievements. 

Education Secretary rules out teacher’s grading being used for exam results

Pupils in England will not be allowed to have their exam results upgraded when they are published today.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has ruled out England following Scotland in accepting scores estimated by teachers.

The Government announced late on Tuesday that A-level and GCSE students will be able to use results in valid mock exams to appeal if they are unhappy with their results.

Writing in The Daily Telegraph newspaper, Mr Williamson said that allowing teachers’ grades to be used would see students lose out.

He said: ‘We would have seen them shoot up, which would devalue the results for the class of 2020, and would clearly not be fair on the classes of 2019 and 2021.

‘But worse than that, it would mean that students this year would lose out twice over, both in their education and their future prospects.’

Mr Williamson had earlier pledged the exams system will deliver ‘credible, strong results’ for the overwhelming majority of young people, despite concerns that many could end up with results lower than they had expected to receive.

The Scottish Government on Tuesday confirmed that it would allow for all results that were downgraded to be withdrawn and replaced by the original estimates.

It followed protests from pupils across the country angry that they had been unfairly penalised by attending schools which have not historically had high levels of performance.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said that it was a ‘blatant injustice’ that young people could have their futures decided by their postcode as a result of the exams system.

He said: ‘Pupils and parents are rightly worried that years of hard work are about to be undone because a computer has decided to mark their child down.

‘For too long, the Tories have considered the needs of young people as an afterthought when their needs should have been central.

‘It’s a blatant injustice that thousands of hardworking young people risk having their futures decided on the basis of their postcode.’

‘It’s especially encouraging to see record numbers of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds with a confirmed place at university, and an increase in applicants accepted onto their first choice.

‘We all rightly hold nurses and key workers in such high esteem, and they’ve clearly inspired a new generation to join them, with the number of students accepted onto nursing courses rising by 13.2 per cent, to 24,750.

‘Universities and colleges have plans to welcome students onto their courses as safely as possible, which have been received well, as we’re seeing a similar proportion of placed applicants currently planning to defer as last year.

‘We’re ready to support students, and Clearing Plus will match those looking for a place to available courses they might be interested in. The Ucas website has information and advice on all the options open to young people, and we’re ready to help them over the phone and on social media.’

It comes as students are waking up to their A-level results amid last-minute changes to appeals, with around one in four entries expected to be awarded the top grades.

Around 300,000 school leavers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are receiving calculated grades to help them progress onto university, work or training after this summer’s exams were cancelled due to the pandemic.

The Government announced late on Tuesday that students in England will have the ‘safety net’ of being able to use mock exam results as the basis for an appeal if they are higher than the calculated grade.

It came hours after Scotland’s Education Secretary announced that moderated calculated grades would be scrapped following an outcry after more than 124,000 results were downgraded.

School and university leaders have demanded clarity from ministers on how the appeals process in England will work and whether it will be completed in time for universities opening in the autumn.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson ruled out further changes to the grading system in the face of any exams backlash.

He told Times Radio: ‘What is clear to me is there will be some youngsters, no matter how much we try to do in terms of this system to maximise the fairness of it, who don’t get the grade they should have potentially have got. That’s why we need to have a really robust system, that’s why we’ve got the triple lock.’

Mr Williamson said this would provide ‘robust grounds of appeal’ and allow pupils to take exams later in the year if required.

Asked if he was prepared to change the system again amid threats of legal action from parents, Mr Williamson replied: ‘We’re not going to be changing this system again.

‘We believe that we’ve put in place – in terms of the triple lock, in terms of the actions we’ve taken – a system that is able to put its arm round those youngsters where there has been a grade that has been unfair on them and is able to put that right.’

Pupils from the most disadvantaged backgrounds would have been at ‘high risk’ of losing out compared to their more middle-class counterparts if exams had been delayed rather than cancelled, he added.

A sixth form student looks at her A-level results at The Crossley Heath Grammar School in Halifax, West Yorkshire, today

Alicia Lake reacts as students at The Mount School in York receive their A-level results this morning

Lowri Howells with her A Level results at Ffynone House School in Swansea, South Wales, this morning

Mr Williamson was asked if he regretted not pushing for exams to be delayed until June.

Government was warned about A-level grading issues, says headteacher 

The Government should have seen the A-level grades crisis coming as they were given plenty of warning, a headteacher has said.

Elisabeth Gilpin, headteacher of St Mary Redcliffe and Temple School in Bristol, welcomed the decision to scrap this year’s A-level exams because of the Covid-19 pandemic but said using a statistical model to predict grades was problematic.

‘There was an obvious gap in their thinking in applying a statistical model to bring down grades to those of a typical year,’ she said.

‘In any typical year there are always some students who do worse than expected because of trauma, bereavement, exam panic or illness.

‘Teachers could not guess who these students would be so rightly gave a grade that reflected for every student the performance level they would be expected to get on the basis of the evidence available in March.

‘However, by applying a statistical model of a typical year it inevitably makes all students take the ‘hit’ of the students that would have underachieved.’

Mrs Gilpin said Education Secretary Gavin Williamson should have acknowledged that this year’s results could not be ‘typical’.

‘This reality has been slow to dawn on the Government and then resulted in a sudden change of heart to allow mock exam results data to be used as the basis for appeals only two days before the students get the results,’ she said.

‘The Government should have seen this problem coming earlier as teachers have been raising it for a while.

‘Ideally, Gavin Williamson’s initial instruction should have allowed for it in acknowledging that this year’s results could not be ‘typical’ and needed to be higher to take account of the removal of normal cases of unexpected underachievement.

‘This would have avoided putting students under unnecessary pressure in worrying about where they would be unfairly hit by the statistical model of adjustment.’

Mrs Gilpin said she hoped the cost of appealing the exam results would be waved in order not to disadvantage poorer students.

‘I am hoping that the Government will have the generosity of spirit to ensure that exam boards waive appeal fees,’ she said.

‘This will prevent students in cash-strapped schools being disadvantaged.

‘Given that exam boards have not had to pay examiners to mark any exams this year, I would hope that the exam boards would have the spare money in their coffers and the grace and kindness to waive these fees to help this generation of young people get a fair result.

‘I am so impressed with all the extra work my teachers have put in to generate the centre assessed grades and their willingness now to put in the time in the holidays to compiling the case for the appeals to do their best to look after our precious young people.’

He replied on Times Radio: ‘If we’d been in a situation where we tried to delay the exams – and this is what happened in Ireland – what became apparent is that children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds, who maybe hadn’t had the same level of support and help, would have been at a maybe high risk of not either turning up to those exams or not having had the same level of support in the run-up to those exams as children from more middle-class backgrounds.’

Mr Williamson said there have been ‘very few examples’ where delaying exams was a ‘feasible’ route to go down.

The Education Secretary was asked why England’s exams regulator Ofqual was not in a position to tell students on results day whether they would have the opportunity to appeal their grades, after it announced it has cancelled its press conference today.

Speaking to Sky News, Mr Williamson said: ‘The reason Ofqual hadn’t got it ready for today is because it’s obviously a decision that was made sort of later on in the process, and that they are working to make sure that information is shared with schools and colleges over the next few days.’

Mr Williamson said a ‘late clearing process’ is expected to be available for pupils who opt to sit A-level exams in the autumn. He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘Universities are looking at being as flexible as possible.’

The Education Secretary said there will be more pupils this year with higher grades than 2019, adding: ‘There’s going to be more youngsters in a position where their grades are going to meet the usual exam expectations of those universities.’

On the autumn exams, he explained: ‘We have been working with the university sector and we’ve had early discussions about making sure there’s a system of clearing that can be run for youngsters to be able to start their university a little bit later than they would have ideally been wanting to do in September/October, but be in a situation of where they’d be able to join the university in January and running a sort of late clearing process.’

Mr Williamson also gave his assurance that he will not make the same exams grade U-turn as was seen in Scotland.

The Education Secretary told Sky News: ‘Absolutely, when we’ve consulted widely, when Ofqual consulted widely (on) the whole system of awarding, this is the message that we got from everyone – this is the right approach to go forward.

‘You’ve got to have a system that has checks and balances, that looks at the whole performance and making sure you maintain standards within the exam system, to ensure those results carry credibility.’

Mr Williamson replied ‘yes’ when asked if he had agreed a process with Ofqual before announcing the changes on the grading process for exams.

Asked why Ofqual has not got a process in place for assessing mock exam results, the Education Secretary told BBC Breakfast: ‘Ofqual has got processes in place for appeals, there’s a whole range of routes that schools can take the appeal process through but the mock exam was an important step forward to ensure there’s enhanced fairness for all pupils right across England.’

He added: ‘Ofqual is going to be issuing clarity as to how this is to be done, making sure that valid mock exams can form the basis of that appeal so that that child can be awarded that grade from that mock exam.’

Mr Williamson’s former politics lecturer, Peter Ashton, told LBC that algorithm systems are ‘not a very good idea’ as they tend to disadvantage high-achieving pupils in low-performing schools.

Asked on Nick Ferrari’s radio show whether his former lecturer is right, the Education Secretary said: ‘Mr Ashton is always correct.

‘There is sometimes a danger where you have an exceptionally high-performing child in a low-performing school to be in a situation where they don’t get the grades that they want to.

‘What we’ve asked the exam boards is, where they think there may be outliers, is actually to be contacting the schools to talk with them to make sure that appeals are put forward.

Holly Cuttiford hugs her mum after receiving her A-level results at Ffynone House School in South Wales this morning

A sixth form student reacts after receiving her A-Level results at The Crossley Heath Grammar School in Halifax today

‘The reason we’ve got the appeals process that we have is to ensure if there is a situation where a child is in that place that they get the grades that they deserve.

A-level students are advised to look at Clearing after last-minute grading changes

University leaders are advising A-level students to look at courses in clearing in the wake of last-minute changes to the way grades will be assessed.

Professor Julia Buckingham, president of Universities UK, told students receiving their results on Thursday not to panic if they miss out on the grades for their offer at university.

She said that universities will be as flexible as they can in the ‘unusual circumstances’ and that students should look at the courses available in clearing.

An analysis by the PA news agency shows that there were nearly 25,000 undergraduate courses across the UK and Northern Ireland listed with clearing vacancies.

These include nearly 4,500 courses at the elite Russell Group universities, according to the admissions service Ucas’s clearing website on Wednesday.

Prof Buckingham said: ‘On the eve of A-level results, our advice to students is to carry on as planned, which means if you miss out on the grades for your offer don’t panic.

‘Speak to your teachers for their advice and get in touch with your first-choice university as soon as possible – universities will be as flexible as they can in these unusual circumstances – and look at the courses available through clearing.’

Her comments come after ministers denied that the exam system in England had been thrown into ‘confusion’ following 11th-hour changes to the way A-level and GCSE results will be assessed.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson announced late on Tuesday that students will be able to use their results in mock tests to appeal if they are unhappy with the grades they are given.

The move came less than 48 hours before students receive their calculated A-level results following the cancellation of actual exams amid the Covid-19 crisis.

Clearing has become an increasingly popular route to securing a university place in recent years, in part due to reforms that lifted the cap on the number of students universities could recruit.

It is also used by students who may have changed their mind about their course or university and want to find somewhere new, or those who have done better than expected and want to trade places.

An analysis, conducted by PA, shows that as of Wednesday morning, for applicants living in England there were 24,970 courses with availability across 146 UK universities and colleges.

Of the 24 Russell Group universities, nearly three in four (17 universities) have at least one course advertised on the clearing site, with 4,485 courses potentially available.

Ucas chief executive Clare Marchant told PA on Monday that as many as 80,000 applicants could find a place via clearing, up from 73,325 last year, despite fears about the impact of Covid-19 on the student experience.

‘I think we will end up with significant numbers through clearing,’ Ms Marchant said. ‘I think it’s going to be probably the busiest yet.’

Anja Hazebroek, director of student recruitment and marketing at the University of Hull, said that the impact of cancelling exams on clearing was not known.

But she said that due to Covid-19 and the virus’s impact on the job market, there might be more prospective students wanting to study closer to home or go to university when they had previously decided not to.

She added: ‘We may have more or less students looking for clearing places, but we are well prepared to help give support and advice to all prospective students.

‘With Covid impacting the job market, as well as changing people’s personal priorities – such as wanting to study on a single-site campus university to avoid the need for public transport – we may see more movement than usual as people choose to go to universities closer to home or decide to go to university after previously planning not to.’

‘There is no system that is as good as the exams system, and any of the system that is put in its place will have weaknesses compared to the exams system.’

Mr Williamson was asked whether Michael Gove, his predecessor as education secretary, made a mistake in scrapping AS-level exams in England, because Welsh students can rely of those grades for their results.

Speaking to Nick Ferrari on LBC, Mr Williamson said: ‘No, not at all. I would probably rather have liked the AS (level) system, sort of what they’ve got in Wales today, but there’s no point in chatting about what you would maybe like.

‘In truth, none of us would have wanted to be in this situation in where we’ve had to have exams cancelled in the first place.

‘But what we saw in Republic of Ireland, where they tried to proceed with an exam process they ended up having to drop that.’  

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said teachers are likely to face questions from ‘disgruntled’ students over appeals on Thursday which they will struggle to answer due to the last-minute announcement and lack of detail about how the process will work.

The Ucas deadline for applicants to meet their academic offer conditions is September 7, which leaves exam boards less than four weeks to issue outcomes of appeals from schools and colleges.

Some universities are concerned that students may not be given enough time to secure a final grade ahead of the start of term in autumn.

The University of the West England (UWE) in Bristol said that any delays would cause ‘uncertainty around final student numbers’, which could in turn affect timetabling and placements.

Ministers have urged universities to be ‘flexible’ and take into account a range of evidence when choosing which youngsters to admit to their degree courses on Thursday in the wake of coronavirus.

But the head of Ucas has suggested it will be a ‘good year’ for youngsters in Britain who want to attend university in the autumn as institutions will be competing to fill courses at a time of uncertainty.

A potential fall in overseas students amid Covid-19 – alongside a drop in 18-year-olds in the population – could help school leavers in the UK secure a place, Clare Marchant, Ucas’ chief executive, has suggested.

Professor Julia Buckingham, president of Universities UK (UUK), told students that universities will be as flexible as they can and urged students to look at the courses available in clearing.

Clearing is increasingly becoming a popular route for students to find a degree course, with leading universities among those to offer last-minute places through the system.

A Press Association analysis shows that, as of yesterday afternoon, there were 24,970 courses with availability across 146 UK universities and colleges for applicants living in England.

Of the 24 Russell Group universities, nearly three in four (17 universities) have at least one course advertised on the clearing site, with 4,485 courses potentially available.

Rachel Hewitt, director of policy and advocacy at the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI), believes university admissions officers and Ucas will receive more calls from students ‘than ever before’ following the last-minute decision to allow English students to use mock grades if they appeal.

She said: ‘It may well be that this change pushes more students to seek to appeal their grades, leaving universities to consider how to manage their places between those who achieve the grades, clearing and those seeking to appeal.

‘The reintroduction of the numbers cap for this year has further complicated this by restricting the places that universities have to give.’

On the changes to appeals, Mr Barton said: ‘Young people are going to come in to get their grades – many of whom we hope will be delighted, some of whom will be disappointed.

‘Some will be perhaps deeply disgruntled and will say ‘so that appeal process using my mock exam, how does that work Miss?’ and Miss isn’t going to be able to reply unless we hear pretty urgently about it.

‘I think there will be a sense from school leaders of us being put in a position of being on the back foot. 

‘I think there will be very deep frustration around that on a day which is always emotionally highly charged, but it’s likely to be more so because of this announcement.’

Emily Wallace (left) uses hand sanitiser as students at Norwich School in Norfolk receive their A-level results today

Sixth form students react after receiving their A-Level results at The Crossley Heath Grammar School in Halifax today

Holly Cuttiford with her A Level results at Ffynone House School in Swansea, South Wales, this morning

Last year, 25.5 per cent of UK entries were awarded an A or A* grades, the lowest proportion since 2007, according to statistics published by the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ).

Welsh education minister makes A-level promise

Students in Wales waiting anxiously for their A-level results will not receive a grade lower than their AS-levels, the education minister has announced.

Kirsty Williams said she was ‘confident’ the system of moderation overseen by regulator Qualifications Wales and exam board WJEC was ‘fair for students and robust’.

In Wales, a different model was used to Scotland and nearly half of pupils’ final mark was based on AS-levels completed last year.

This year’s exams were cancelled across the UK because of the coronavirus lockdown and there are fears the replacement grading system will create a postcode lottery.

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has apologised for the failures in moderation, which saw the marks of students from deprived backgrounds disproportionately downgraded.

Meanwhile UK Education Secretary Gavin Williamson also apologised to pupils for the disruption to their schooling after announcing changes that will see students able to use results in valid mock exams to appeal if they are unhappy with their results.

Ms Williams said: ‘Governments in other parts of the UK have introduced changes to their systems and we must make sure that these alterations do not disadvantage Welsh students.

‘Students in Wales, and prospective employers and universities across the UK, can be assured that their A-level grades reflect their work and externally assessed exams.

‘Almost half the final grade comes from AS-level exams – this is not the situation elsewhere.

‘Therefore, in building on that completed work, I am giving a guarantee that a learner’s final A-level grade cannot be lower than their AS grade.

‘If a student receives a final grade that is below that of their previous AS grade, then a revised grade will be issued automatically by WJEC.

‘This will mean – and I have received assurances from Ucas and universities – that students can speak with confidence to their prospective universities regarding their A-level grades.’

Ms Williams said she would be asking Qualifications Wales to ‘move forward quickly’ on any adjustments to the appeals process, to ensure Welsh students are not disadvantaged.

‘I am confirming today that all appeals will be free for Welsh students, to ensure there is no financial barrier to ensure learners feel their exam grades are fair,’ she added.

Suzy Davies, the Welsh Conservative shadow minister for education, said she was ‘pleased’ by Ms Williams’ announcement.

She said: ‘What has been absolutely crucial is to ensure there is a fair system for grading our young people on their A-level results.

‘It was vital to see a safety net being implemented in Wales to make sure pupils achieved the grade they had worked towards.’

Plaid Cymru shadow education minister Sian Gwenllian added: ‘This eleventh hour U-turn by the minister is an admission that the system was flawed from the off.

‘The Welsh Government will be marked down severely for leaving teachers and pupils in limbo – and their hard work, initially, unrewarded.

‘It is welcome that the minister has listened to Plaid Cymru calls for a free and independent appeals process.

‘This will give some comfort to those pupils who have been let down in what was already a time of unprecedented anxiety.’

David Evans, Wales secretary of the National Education Union Cymru, said: ‘Whilst it is disappointing that amendments to some grades have come late in the day, we hope that the Welsh Government proposals outlined by the Minister will ensure fairness for young people about to receive their grades.

‘To many young people, exam grades are a ticket to their futures, and should not reflect where you live, but what you are capable of. It has been an unprecedented year for these young people, and grades must reflect their true ability for there to be confidence in the system.

‘We wish every young person ‘good luck’ for tomorrow.’

England’s exams regulator Ofqual previously said that the national results are likely to be higher this summer than previous years following disruption.

Teachers were told to submit the grades they thought each student would have received if they had sat the papers after exams were cancelled. Exam boards have moderated these grades to ensure this year’s results are not significantly higher than previous years.

Mr Williamson said: ‘Grades awarded today will open up the doors of opportunity for young people to progress to the next stage of their lives, whether studying at one of our world-class universities, taking up an apprenticeship or embarking on the start of their careers.

‘Any students who feel they have grounds for appeal now have the safety net of being able to use their mock results as evidence, as well as the chance of sitting autumn exams, thanks to our triple lock process to ensure confidence and fairness in the system.’

He added: ‘The resilience they have shown during these challenging times will serve them well and I wish them all the very best for the future.’

Meanwhile the chief executive the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) has said she ‘regrets’ some pupils’ feelings over downgraded results but insisted the moderation system used this year was fair.

Fiona Robertson appeared before the Scottish Parliament’s Education Committee yesterday.

It follows a Scottish Government U-turn due to anger over nearly 125,000 results being downgraded from teacher estimates by the SQA’s controversial moderation system.

The downgraded results will now be withdrawn, reverting to the original estimates.

Ms Robertson said everyone at the SQA was ‘keenly aware of the concerns from young people’ expressed over the past week.

In her opening remarks to the committee, she said: ‘On the basis of the commission that we received from the Scottish Government, there was a clear and unequivocal case for some moderation.’

The appeals process would have dealt with any ‘anomalies’ in the moderated results, she said, while the SQA’s equalities impact assessments showed the results were ‘fair’.

Scottish Conservative MSP Jamie Greene said to her: ‘I listened with intent to your opening statement but there’s one word I didn’t hear, and that’s the word ‘sorry”.

She responded: ‘It was difficult to see the reaction to last week’s results.

‘But we were asked to fulfil a role and part of that role was to maintain standards across Scotland.

‘I fully appreciate that, as I highlighted in my opening statement, young people felt that their achievements had been taken outwith their control.

‘I absolutely get that and of course I regret how young people have felt about this process.’

Scottish Green MSP Ross Greer asked if one of the SQA’s statisticians had resigned as the moderating system was being developed and if this was because they had concerns about the system.

She confirmed one person had resigned but said: ‘I’m not privy to the full details of that particular individual.

‘It probably wouldn’t be fair for me to go into that in fairness to them.’

Scottish Labour’s Iain Gray asked if the SQA signed off on a moderation system ‘in the sure and certain knowledge that pupils in those schools with a poorer past performance would be more heavily impacted’.

Ms Robertson said the moderation process was based on data but ‘the extraordinary circumstances of the year meant that we were awarding on a basis that I think we would all agree were not ideal because of the cancellation of exams’.

The SNP’s Alex Neil raised what he called the ‘human cost’ of the system, saying he had heard from the family of a young woman who had been left ‘distraught’ by a downgraded result and refused to eat or leave her room for three days.

Referring to previous committee meetings which raised concerns about the methodology, he said: ‘The SQA absolutely refused to listen to the committee’s point about the need to consult on the methodology before it was approved.

‘I think everybody and their granny knew that if you used the record of local schools you’d end up with the situation we ended up with – where the moderation process led to two and a half times the downgrades in the poorest areas than happened in the more affluent areas.’

Ms Robertson said ‘where there are lessons to be learned we will learn them’.

Exam results fiasco: What is happening across the nations?

The question of what to do with A-level and GCSE students in a year when exams have been cancelled has been a tricky equation to solve.

The Government on Tuesday came up with an answer for England, but it still has not pleased everyone. Here is a closer look.

– What was the problem?

The coronavirus pandemic forced sustained school closures across the UK during the back end of the spring term and the majority of the summer term.

It has meant pupils have been unable to sit GCSE or A-level exams, crucial in deciding how best to continue their education, where to look for work or training, or which college or university course to apply to.

– Education is a devolved issue – what is the current state of play across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland?

The picture is a mosaic of approaches, with U-turns announced virtually on the eve of students getting results.

The coronavirus pandemic has had a major impact on student lives.

– In England?

GCSE and A-level students in England have been assured of a so-called ‘triple lock’ approach, essentially picking their best result.

It means students could accept their calculated grade, appeal to receive valid mock results, or sit their exams when schools resume properly in the autumn.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson announced on Tuesday evening that results in mock tests – which were held before schools were forced to close amid the pandemic – will carry the same weight as the calculated results to be awarded later this month.

– What about Scotland?

Mr Williamson’s announcement followed a U-turn north of the border, when Scotland’s Education Secretary John Swinney revealed tens of thousands of students would have their exam results upgraded following a public outcry.

Students complained after the moderation systems resulted in the downgrading of more than 124,000 test results.

Instead, those lowered results would revert to the grades estimated by pupils’ teachers.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was also forced to apologise for the moderation fiasco, after it emerged students from deprived backgrounds saw their results disproportionately downgraded.

The Scottish education system is different to that in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, with Highers being the equivalent of A-levels.

– What’s happening in Wales?

The Welsh Government has insisted there will be no such problems for their A-level results.

Housing and local government minister Julie James said during a briefing on Tuesday that Wales uses different modelling to Scotland and that nearly half of pupils’ final mark was based on AS-levels completed last year.

There had been concerns from students that such a model would mean pupils at schools which had historically not performed as well would be unfairly penalised.

But Ms James said: ‘We are obviously very keen that our learners are given the accolade they need for the hard work that they’ve done but also that they get the grades that they deserve, and that those grades are robust and will take them forward into their lives with confidence.

‘We’re not expecting what happened in Scotland to happen here.’

– And in Northern Ireland?

Results will be based on teachers’ predictions and statistical modelling.

Teachers were asked to predict the grades they thought pupils would have achieved had exams gone ahead, based on coursework, the result of mock exams, and homework.

Schools were also requested to rank pupils in each subject.

But Northern Ireland’s exams body, the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment, said students will have a broader scope to appeal their A-level and GCSE grades.

– What are the main concerns about the various approaches?

Few students would have been able to predict the impact the pandemic would have on them – in particular, that their final grade might hinge on mock exam results.

Student approaches to mock exams vary – some see it as a chance to test themselves, some deem it a distraction. Others are ambivalent.

So it is understandable that there is concern that exams previously dismissed as being of low value by some students are now being relied upon to determine their futures.

There are also concerns that teacher estimates – which can now be used by Scottish pupils who saw their results downgraded after moderation – might not be accurate.

While different nations have had different approaches, the confusion and last-minute goalpost-changing in England and Scotland in particular may result in a wave of appeals from schools – although there will be a lot of pressure to get those appeals dealt with promptly ahead of the new academic year.

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