Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has hit out at the “complete fiasco” of the 11th-hour changes to the way A-level and GCSE results in England will be assessed, saying it “smacks of incompetence”.
The government has announced that students will be able to use their mock exam results to appeal if they are unhappy with their grades, as well as being able to sit exams in the autumn.
This summer’s exams were cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic, with teachers required to submit the grades they thought each student would have achieved had they taken them.
These grades have been moderated by exam boards to make sure this year’s results for students are not significantly higher than in previous years.
“By ensuring students have the safety net of their mock results, as well as the chance of sitting autumn exams, we are creating a triple lock process to ensure they can have the confidence to take the next step forward in work or education,” Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said.
But the move has provoked criticism, with one union leader warning it will lead to “massive inconsistency” in the way grades are awarded.
Sir Keir echoed this disquiet, labelling the decision “shambolic”.
“This is complete fiasco. It was obvious that this was going to be difficult but it’s been weeks or months in the coming,” the Labour leader said during a visit to Wakefield College in West Yorkshire.
“It’s hours to go before the results,” he pointed out.
“We now face possibly 40% of young people having their grades changed and downgraded, possibly.
“And this risks robbing them of their future.
“There has to be a basis for individual young people to be able to appeal against the grading.”
Sir Keir added that the idea of using mock results was “deeply flawed”.
“Talking to teachers today, it’s obvious that they expect, across the piece, that young people will do better in the real exam than they’d done in the mock,” he continued.
“It’s not going to work, it’s not going to wash.”
The announcement came hours after the Scottish government said tens of thousands of pupils would have exam results reinstated following outcry over a controversial moderation process.
Pupils in the most deprived areas had their exam pass rate downgraded by more than twice that of students from the wealthiest parts of the country.
Sir Keir voiced fears of a similar scenario in England in the days to come.
“The cause for concern here is that, if this is anything like Scotland, it will be the more deprived areas where the grades are downgraded. And that’s simply not acceptable,” he said.
“This is the chance for people to go on to higher education, to go on apprenticeships. This is their life chance that we’re dealing with here.
“The government’s got to do far better than it’s done.”
Schools minister Nick Gibb told Sky News earlier that the calculated grades system is “fair” and pupils getting their grades “can be confident in those results”.
Speaking to Kay Burley @ Breakfast, he added: “It is just making sure at the edges that no student is disadvantaged.
“This is just to give a safety net for any student who might fall through the system.
“It will only affect a small group of people. Most young people tomorrow will get the grade that the teacher sent in to the exam board that they thought they would get.”
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said mock exams are not standardised and some students may not have taken them before schools closed in March.
He said: “The idea of introducing at the 11th hour a system in which mock exam results trump calculated grades beggars belief.
“Schools and colleges have spent months diligently following detailed guidance to produce centre-assessed grades, only to find they might as well not have bothered.”
In Wales, the devolved administration has said different modelling to that seen in Scotland will be used for its A-level results and that nearly half of pupils’ final mark was based on AS-levels completed last year.
In Northern Ireland, results will be based on teachers’ predictions and statistical modelling, although the examinations body CCEA has said that any students wishing to appeal their grade can use mock exams as part of their case.