NEU comments on A level results in England

By agency reporter
August 14, 2020

Following the publication of A Level and vocational qualification results in England, the joint General Secretary of the National Education Union (NEU) has issued a statement.

Dr Mary Bousted said:  "The politics of results season 2020 has drowned out the most important point – that students must be congratulated for their hard work and patience through a difficult time for the whole nation. Teachers and school and college leaders have tried their best, during a time of great uncertainty, to support and help the young people they teach. They have been let down by a poor system and last-minute political decisions. 

"Students have been knocked from pillar to post this year through no fault of their own. In Scotland, many pupils suffered a week of real anguish over lower grades than they expected, only for their centre assessed grades to be reinstated. Wales has the benefit of external exams (AS Levels) taken partway through the A Level course to use as a backstop – unlike in England, where Gavin Williamson has taken pre-emptive measures which only serve to show he has no confidence in and cannot defend the system he created during lockdown.  

"Williamson's plan is a real insult to young people and their parents, who depend on a credible system which is supposed to help students on their way to a bright future. For those having to sit autumn exams, that future will now be postponed. For others, the competition for university places has been intensified due to different decisions being made in Scotland. And it remains to be seen quite how unfair the Government's plan will be for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.  

"Years of misconceived structures in the exams process have come back to haunt the Westminster Government. Students have been downgraded for reasons which to them will be obscure. So not only will the result be devastating, but many will discover it has nothing to do with their own performance and everything to do with the past attainment of their school. Student prospects this year were governed by an algorithm, and the unfairness of that process has been fully exposed. 

"Gavin Williamson's solution is no 'triple lock' but a menu of bad options. Teachers and pupils who know how mock exams differ even among subjects in the same school will wonder what counts as a 'valid' mock exam result, and the suggestion that this should be viewed as more reliable than teacher assessment is simply nonsensical. In other nations, pupils at least have the security of AS Level results giving a percentage of their final grade, rather than basing their entire future on a single set of exams.  

"This is why the appeals process is more important than ever. It needs to be accessible to all and resourced properly to cope with demand, so that no further delays are created in the lives of young people. 

"And, in the longer term, the A Level system that was once hailed by politicians as a gold standard needs to be radically overhauled. 

“The Scottish Government realised it had made a mistake, apologised and promised to put it right. Gavin Williamson has apologised and promised to put things right, but his solution causes more problems than it solves.  We are now, at the eleventh hour, dealing with a crisis which should never have arisen.  The only solution is to award students the grades their teachers – who know them better than any computer data prediction – think they would have achieved. 

"This pandemic is not over yet and the course of COVID-19 will lead to big changes in society and in education. Now is the time for the Government to sit down, with heads, teachers and their union representatives, to talk about how we can all deliver the best for the children we teach and restore confidence in our qualifications and exam system."

* National Education Union https://neu.org.uk/

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