Britain working on solution to exam row as criticism spirals

LONDON (Reuters) – The British government is working with regulators on how to resolve an escalating row over the way pupils in England were awarded grades after their exams were cancelled due to COVID-19, with media reports suggesting a change in policy was imminent.

The government has faced days of criticism after its exam regulator used an algorithm to assess grade predictions made by teachers, and lowered those grades for almost 40% of students taking their main school-leaving exams.

A spokesman for Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the government was continuing to work on a solution, and that Johnson had spoken with education minister Gavin Williamson and other officials on Monday morning from his holiday in Scotland.

“The whole of government has been, and continues to work hard to come up with the fairest system possible for pupils,” the spokesman said.

Results for separate exams taken by mostly 15- and 16-year old students are due to be announced on Thursday, and were due to be subject to the same regulator moderation.

The row has damaged Johnson’s core message to voters since he was elected in December, which was that he wanted to get rid of barriers to achievement and help those from poorer backgrounds and areas achieve their potential.

Anecdotal evidence from students shows some were downgraded several levels by the regulator’s model and missed out on university places.

A further statement was expected later on Monday.

The Times newspaper, citing sources, said the algorithm-affected results would be ditched for pupils in England, and they would instead get the result their teachers predicted.

The devolved government in Wales announced on Monday it would use teachers’ predictions for all exam results, and Northern Ireland’s assembly said Thursday’s results for 15- and 16-year olds would be based on teachers’ assessments.

Analysis of the Ofqual algorithm showed it to result in “manifest injustice”, said Paul Johnson, director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies think-tank, writing for the Times.

He said it favoured students in the smaller classes more commonly found at fee-paying schools, and, by basing its predictions on past performance, made it harder for top pupils at historically poor-performing schools to get the best grades.

The government and regulator have promised an appeals process, but the details have not yet been set out. They said results were moderated to make sure they could be standardised across all schools.

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