The Mayor of Tower Hamlets John Biggs has called on the Prime Minister to provide urgent support for the higher and further education sector following the ‘entirely avoidable’ exams fiasco.

This week the Government eventually performed a U-turn over exam grades and announced that teachers’ predicted grades would be used to award GCSEs and A Levels rather than an algorithm as initially planned. This U-turn followed a chaotic several days in which there were repeated changes in government policy, including guidance published and deleted on the same day.

The U-turn however has left many questions unresolved with young people and education institutions continuing to face a great deal of uncertainty.

In a letter directly to the Prime Minister, the Mayor welcomed the U-turn but criticised the Government’s handling of the issue and warned that the decision will come too late for many young people, with many universities having to re-allocate places for students whose grades were wrongly reduced by the algorithm and now face severe oversubscription.

The Mayor warns that the socio-economic bias of the algorithm means that ‘low-income students will be disproportionately represented among those who now miss out on their university place despite getting the required grades’.

Mayor Biggs also highlights the fact that BTEC students were not included in the U-turn, meaning hundreds of thousands of students taking BTECs have no idea about what impact, if any, the U-turn will have on their grades. Adding to the confusion, last night (19th August) on the eve of GCSE and BTEC results being announced, exam board Pearson announced it would be pulling BTEC results in order to regrade them. The Mayor has directly appealed to the Prime Minister to ensure that BTEC students are ‘treated in the same way as those taking A-levels and receive centre-assessed grades’.

Mayor of Tower Hamlets John Biggs said: “I’m glad the Government finally listened to young people and teachers about the chaotic impact of their grading algorithm, but the fact is that ministers had months to prepare for this moment and they have failed. The Government also had a clear indication from what happened with Scottish exam results that trying to standardise results through an algorithm was going to lead to huge unfairness.

“The exam fiasco was entirely avoidable and now students and education providers face even more questions about what happens next. I’m calling on the Government to provide the urgent clarity and support we need to move forward from this chaotic episode.”

Cllr Danny Hassell, Cabinet Member for Children and Schools, said: “Our young people have worked incredibly hard through really difficult circumstances, so it was hugely disappointing that the Government piled completely unnecessary stress and uncertainty on to them through this fiasco.

“It beggars belief that the Government failed to include BTEC grades in their U-turn announcement, leaving many students with more anxiety and uncertainty about their futures.

“We need the Government to get a grip urgently if they are to undo the unnecessary chaos and confusion they have caused.”

 

 

Full text of the letter sent from Mayor Biggs to the Prime Minister:

Dear Prime Minister,

I welcome your government’s decision to award centre-assessed grades for this year’s A-levels and GCSEs where these are higher than those awarded by the algorithm. However, the reality is that this decision will come too late for many students and I’m very disappointed with the way this situation has been handled.

Many universities will have already re-allocated the places of students whose grades were wrongly reduced by the algorithm. Although your government has lifted the cap on student admissions, clearly there are limitations on the maximum number of places that universities can offer and it, therefore, seems likely that without decisive government action universities will not be able to admit all students who missed out.

Given the evident socio-economic bias of the statistical model, low-income students will be disproportionately represented among those who now miss out on their university place despite getting the required grades because of an entirely avoidable crisis caused by your government.

In my borough of Tower Hamlets, many children, despite coming from deprived backgrounds, had worked hard and achieved life-changing results. Instead of being able to celebrate their achievements, these students have needlessly endured five days of stress and disappointment and may now find that while the correct grades have eventually been awarded, their university place may no longer be available.

Therefore, I am urging you to provide support to the higher and further education sector so that students can be offered their university place if they met the offer conditions under the now-accepted centre-assessed grading system.

It’s also vital that those who studied for BTEC qualifications are not forgotten. So far, BTEC students have not been included in the reversion to centre-assessed grades. I am calling on you to ensure that BTEC students are treated in the same way as those taking A-levels and receive centre-assessed grades where these are higher than those awarded by the algorithm.

I would also like the Department for Education to take swift action to ensure that all BTEC grades are published as soon as possible as many students have still not even received their grades because of delays in the system.

I look forward to hearing how your government will respond to this crisis.

Yours sincerely,

Mayor John Biggs

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