A-level results: No 10 hints algorithm set to be ditched in England

Downing Street has dropped a heavy hint that ministers are preparing to ditch the algorithm used to standardise last week’s A-level results in England after days of intense political pressure.

Boris Johnson held a phone call with ministers and senior officials from his holiday in Scotland on Monday morning, his spokesman said.

“The whole of government has been working hard and continues to work hard to come up with the fairest system possible,” he said. “We recognise this has been an incredibly difficult year, and that is why that work continues,” he said.

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“We recognise that many people are concerned and anxious about the exam grading system.”

It is understood an official announcement will be made at about 4pm.

Asked why the education secretary, Gavin Williamson, had not made any public statement on the crisis since Saturday, the spokesman said: “You saw the education secretary last week, and I expect you’ll see him again.”

Williamson gave an interview on Saturday in which he said there would be “no U-turn, no change”, but at least 20 Conservative MPs had made their concerns about the exams crisis known publicly by lunchtime on Monday.

The spokesman did not make clear what changes would be made, but he said ministers had rejected the idea mooted by a number of critics, including a former Tory education secretary, that GCSE results could be delayed. “We will not be delaying GCSE results,” he said.

He said the government still had confidence in Williamson and in the exams regulator, Ofqual.

It follows days of turmoil following the publication of A-level results in England on Thursday, with almost 40% of predicted results downgraded, prompting uproar among pupils and teachers.

Headteachers and pupils have called for the controversial standardisation model, drawn up by Ofqual to arrive at this year’s results in lieu of exams, to be scrapped and teacher-assessed grades to be reinstated.

The government briefing came hours after Northern Ireland confirmed that its GCSE results would be solely based on grades provided by teachers, which followed a similar U-turn in Scotland last week.

Ofqual and the Department of Education are expected to make a statement after days of intense negotiations, with advice on appeals via mocks issued then withdrawn during a chaotic weekend that will have knocked public confidence in the exams system.

Hundreds of young people have taken to the streets of London, demonstrating outside the Department for Education to express their anger, while others have taken to the airwaves and social media to describe their devastation at getting downgraded and losing university places.

Ofqual has argued that its algorithm was essential to ensure results were standardised across the country and in line with previous years, but individual stories of gross unfairness appear to have proved too much for the government to resist. Wales may also come under pressure to follow suit if the algorithm is ditched.

As rumours began to circulate about an imminent announcement, Labour urged the government to allow pupils in England to use their centre-assessed grades to bring the exams fiasco to an end.

The Labour MP Kate Green, the shadow education secretary, said: “The injustice and chaos surrounding A-level and GCSE results must come to an end. We gave the government days, not weeks, to end the crisis but they have still failed to take action.

“Enough is enough. The government have failed young people and their families on A-levels and are threatening to do the same with GCSEs. The government must now allow young people to use the grades their teachers predicted at both A-level and GCSE.”

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