Delight and Complaints Over ‘Calculated’ Grades as CCP Virus Disrupts UK Exam Results

August 13, 2020 Updated: August 15, 2020

Hundreds of thousands of UK teenagers got their A-level exam results on Thursday despite not having sat any summer term exams, which were canceled due to the CCP virus pandemic.

The grading system, based on mock exams and teachers’ rankings, has produced higher grades than expected for some A-level students, with a 2.4 percent increase in students getting grade A’s in England.

The grading and standardization process has met with criticism from teaching leaders, however, who have complained that it has not been fair to many students receiving lower than expected grades.

“While there has been an overall increase in top grades, we are very concerned that this disguises a great deal of volatility among the results at school and student level,” Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said in a statement.

Teachers had followed the guidance and made every effort to submit accurate data about students, he said, but had given the ASCL “heartbreaking feedback” about resulting grades that had been “pulled down” and were “utterly unfair and unfathomable.”

He called for an urgent review of the situation by the government and exam regulator Ofqual, and warned against them “simply digging in their heels and insisting all is well.”

Calculated Grades

Following a government announcement in March, a contingency system to award “calculated grades” was devised by Ofqual working with exam boards.

The system was developed to ensure fair results for students whose exams were canceled due to school and college closures during the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus pandemic.

Epoch Times Photo
A student nervously waits to discover her university options after receiving her A-level results at City Academy, Hackney, in London on Aug. 13, 2020. (Leon Neal/Getty Images)

In the new system (pdf), students are awarded estimated grades calculated by using teacher assessments and the result of mock exams, the routine practice exams that were taken before the lockdown.

Teachers were asked to submit a “centre assessed grade” (CAG) for each student based on his or her prior performance in school or college.

A standardization process by Ofqual was then undertaken before grades were finally awarded.

Figures released by Ofqual (pdf) show nearly 40 percent of the 700,000 grades submitted by teachers were downgraded by the standardization algorithm by at least one grade. Around 2.2 percent were raised.

Student Reaction

Thursday’s exam results could be accessed online, but many students chose to go into school to get their results with friends.

One of those, Phillip, an 18-year-old A-level student at Latymer Upper School in Hammersmith, London, said he was happy to have achieved the four A*’s he had hoped for and is set to study engineering at Cambridge University.

He said that some of his friends, however, didn’t get the grades they thought they deserved.

According to his teachers, downgrading had been an issue this year, and grade distribution had not been comparable to the last two or three years, Phillip said.

“It’s a tough one,” he told The Epoch Times.

“Even if you sit the exams and you make a couple of mistakes you might not get the grades you want because of a grade boundary—you might get an A instead of an A*.

“At the end of the day, there is no 100 percent accurate way of gauging how good a student actually is at their subject.”

Despite lower than expected grades, universities, however, were being “very lenient” with many of his friends, he said, who were still accepted by their first choice of university.

Criticism

A survey by the Sixth Form Colleges Association said that 96 percent of sixth form college heads reported that the grades students received were “lower or much lower” than the CAG’s given by teachers. Some said up to two-thirds of the grades were downgraded.

Bill Watkin, chief executive of the association, said in a statement that the survey shows that the calculation of grades is “flawed and unreliable” and has disadvantaged many children.

He called for the system to be scrapped as a “failed experiment” and for grades to be based purely on the CAG’s submitted by teachers.

The grading has also met with criticism from Labour politicians.

Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, wrote in a tweet: “Something has obviously gone horribly wrong with this year’s exam results.

“The Government needs to urgently rethink. We need to guarantee the right to individual appeals, the fee for appeals waived and nothing to be ruled out, including the U-turn that was forced on the Scottish Government.”

The Ofqual grading system operates in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland only.

Scotland had a different system, and, following public pressure, around 75,000 disputed grades for Scottish students were upgraded last week.

Appeals Process

The government have built in a “triple-lock” appeals process for those students who are unhappy with their results.

“Students could accept their calculated grade, appeal to receive a valid mock result, or sit autumn exams to ensure the achievements of young people are recognized,” the Department for Education said in a media statement published on Wednesday.

“No one wanted to cancel exams—they are the best form of assessment, but the disruption caused by Covid-19 meant they were not possible,” Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said.

A petition started by West London A-level student Curtis Parfitt-Ford has gained over 35,000 signatures by 5:45 p.m. calling on Boris Johnson to immediately fix the algorithm used to calculate the grades, which Parfitt-Ford says is flawed.

“For a lot of pupils, the algorithm doesn’t even consider what our own teachers predicted we’d get. There isn’t a proper appeals process. Worst of all, pupils from poorer schools, with lower results historically, are due to get automatically marked down by the software,” he says in the petition on Change.org