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Algorithms bypassed for exam marking in England, Wales and NI



Education ministers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland have scrapped most of the use of algorithms in marking A-level and GCSE examinations after widespread anger at the outcomes.

On Monday 17 August the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual) said it would award grades based on teachers’ estimates of pupils’ results, known as centre assessment grades. This will apply to already-announced A-levels, unless the calculated result is higher than the centre assessment grade. It will also apply to GCSE results which will be released on Thursday 20 August.

In a statement, Ofqual said that following the cancellation of exams due to the coronavirus pandemic it had been asked by education secretary Gavin Williamson to develop a system that “ensured that grades were awarded broadly in line with previous years”. It had done so based on the recent performance of schools and colleges, with many pupils and students being downgraded.

“We worked with Ofqual to construct the fairest possible model, but it is clear that the process of allocating grades has resulted in more inconsistency and unfairness than can be reasonably resolved through an appeals process,” said Gavin Williamson.

“We now believe it is better to offer young people and parents certainty by moving to teacher assessed grades for both A and AS level and GCSE results. I am sorry for the distress this has caused young people and their parents but hope this announcement will now provide the certainty and reassurance they deserve.”

Forced to backtrack

Curtis Parfitt-Ford, an A-level student who had launched a crowdfunded legal campaign to challenge the results, wrote: “Today, the Government learned that kicking young people’s futures to the curb doesn’t work. They’ve been forced to backtrack on giving students algorithmically generated A level grades, instead reverting to grades that teachers – the people who know the students best – produced.”

Williamson’s U-turn followed a similar decision last week by the Scottish Government, which uses a different set of exams to the rest of the UK. The devolved governments in Wales and Northern Ireland also decided to follow suit.

“Given decisions elsewhere, the balance of fairness now lies with awarding centre assessment grades to students, despite the strengths of the system in Wales,” said education minister Kirsty Williams. “For grades issued last week, I have decided that all awards in Wales will also be made on the basis of teacher assessment.”

“Concerns remain over the impact of changes to the qualifications system throughout the United Kingdom and any potential solution offered has its flaws. However, my prime concern is to ensure that young people in Northern Ireland are in no way disadvantaged in comparison to their peers elsewhere,” said education minister Peter Weir. “Portability and comparability of qualifications is critical for students, particularly in Northern Ireland.”


Image from GOV.UK, Open Government Licence v3.0

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