Bedford schools “welcome” u-turn over A-level grading

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Empty exam room
Due to the global pandemic, students were unable to sit their exams this year

Students and staff at schools across Bedford Borough have welcomed today’s u-turn by Ofqual and the Government to remove any grades that were downgraded by ‘algorithmic adjustments’.

As we reported last week (17 August) Ofqual figures showed around 40% of the 700,000 teacher assessments submitted in England were lowered by one or more grade during its algorithmic standardisation process.

Figures in Bedford were found to match the national trend.

Ahead of today’s u-turn, headteacher at Bedford School, James Hodgson, said the situation over the grading was confusing.

“This has been an incredibly difficult year for everybody – Exam boards, schools, parents and most importantly pupils,” he said.

“Recent decisions by Governments north and south of the border have further confused matters and caused much anxiety.”

Mark Rutherford’s deputy head, Kelli Foster added: “As a school we knew our students and historical data well to support our Centre Assessed Grades.

“Our internal process was rigorous and robust taking in to consideration all of requirements of the exams process this year and this has been reflected in our published results.”

Ofqual apologises for “distress” caused

Now, after a significant outpouring of anger from schools, parents, local authorities and MPs, the Government has said any algorithmic standardisation will no longer be used.

Ofqual chair Roger Taylor and Education Secretary Gavin Williamson apologised for the “distress” caused.

A-level results already released, and GCSE results due out on Thursday (20 August), will now be graded based on teacher estimations.

While this may be welcome relief for many, opposition politicians have continued to highlight what they called a “disastrous tactic”, which they say created unfair inconsistencies.

“The algorithm used two crucial factors, firstly, how students were ranked in ability, and secondly, how well their school or college performed in recent years,” said Mohammad Yasin, Labour MP for Bedford and Kempston.

“On an individual level, this was a disastrous tactic, inevitably meaning that high achieving students would likely only be recognised as such if they attended a high performing school or college, immediately giving more disadvantaged pupils lower odds of being given the high grades they deserved,” he said.

Bedford Borough Council’s Portfolio Holder for Education and Children’s Services, Cllr James Valentine, echoed Mr Yasin’s anger.

“I am disappointed at the way in which the Department for Education has managed A-level results to children this year, including the last minute announcement of the ‘triple lock’ process and changing around 40% of teacher-assessed grades that has undermined teacher’s professional judgement,” he said.

Bedford Borough Council say they’re awaiting further clarity about how this system will work, with Cllr James adding: “The Council will continue to support pupils, parents and schools to secure positive destinations for all pupils.”

However, Conservative MP for North Bedfordshire Richard Fuller also criticised the grading decisions, believing it could have been avoided.

“This upsetting period for school students could have been avoided if examinations had gone ahead as planned. That is what many other European countries did and they were right to do so.

“In the UK, governments in each nation chose a different path and all have now had to change tack.

“Given this, I hope Ofqual’s announcement today provides reassurance to the students who will be receiving their A level and GCSE grades this Summer,” he said.

“I could not be more proud of them”

One thing is clear though, regardless of the marking down of grades and confusion. Head teachers and staff at schools here are very proud of their students.

“This is an incredible achievement for our pupils given the challenging circumstances this year,” said a spokesperson for Rushmoor and St Andrew’s Sixth Form.

“I could not be more proud of them; they are a credit to themselves and to the school and they all have very bright futures ahead of them,” said Bedford Modern School’s headmaster, Alex Tate.

“I am proud of their resilience, positive attitudes, determination and focus for their next steps,” added Kelli Foster, deputy head at Mark Rutherford.

And James Hodgson, headteacher at Bedford School, said: “They could have let go of education altogether back in March – that they did not speaks volumes for their strength of character, resilience and curiosity in the world around them.”

(l-r) Leon Smith and Leuan Daniel collect their A-level results
(l-r) Rushmoor School pupils, Leon Smith and Leuan Daniel collect their A-level results.

Cllr Valentine also offered his congratulations: “I am incredibly proud of the excellent results achieved by so many A Level pupils this year.

“The excellent results are testament to the hard work of pupils and the support of school staff and parents which have been secured while enduring the unprecedented challenges during the COVID period.”

In a statement, education secretary Gavin Williamson said there were”significant inconsistencies” with the grading process and it had been an “extraordinarily difficult” year for students.

Ofqual and No 10 had worked to design, what he said was “the fairest possible model”, but this resulted in “more significant inconsistencies than can be resolved through an appeals process”.

He apologised further to parents and students for the “distress caused”, adding “[I] hope this announcement will now provide the certainty and reassurance they deserve.”

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