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Gavin Williamson vows ministers will not change A-level grading system again if there is an outcry over results

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer called the shift in the grading system “a complete fiasco”. (PA)

5 min read

The Government will not change England’s A-levels grading system again if there is an outcry over Thursday’s results, the Education Secretary has declared.

Gavin Williamson said a new “triple lock” system unveiled on Tuesday night following a row over Scottish grades would “put its arm around” youngsters who felt their grades were unfair after exams were cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

But he said the Government would not revisit the new set-up if parents and pupils lodge mass objections to the grades they are awarded.

The Scottish Government this week bowed to protests over the way grades have been calculated there, with Scottish results to now be based on teachers’ predicted grades without an additional moderating process.

In a bid to stave off a similar row in England, Mr Williamson’s department said students would now be allowed to appeal their moderated grades to request the use of mock exam results if required.

They can also choose to take exams in the autumn instead if they believe their moderated grades are unfair.

But the Education Secretary told Times Radio: “We're not going to be changing this system again."

And he added: “We believe that we put in place in terms of the triple lock, in terms of the actions that we've taken, a system that will able to put its arm around those youngsters where there has been a grade that is unfair on them and able to put that right.

“But we do have to have checks and balances within the awarding of grades.

“And we can't be in a situation where there aren't those checks and balances.

"Because you will see situations where quite simply, if you don't have those checks and balances in there, there's going to be even greater unfairness to students, especially to those schools and youngsters who absolutely followed the rules to the absolute letter.

“And they will be the ones who will be disadvantaged if we were to change the system again.”


Labour and the education unions have accused the Government of a "panicked and chaotic" last-minute change to the grading system, with Sir Keir Starmer branding the shift “a complete fiasco” which “smacks of incompetence”.

The Labour leader added: "It's shambolic. It's hours to go before the results.

"The problem is obvious and it's been sitting there for weeks or months.

"We now face possibly 40% of young people having their grades changed and downgraded, possibly. 

“And this risks robbing them of their future.”

Geoff Barton, general secretary of head teachers’ union the Association of School and College Leaders, meanwhile said the plan had the potential for "massive inconsistency" as mock exams are not standardised.

He said: "The idea of introducing at the 11th hour a system in which mock exam results trump calculated grades beggars belief.

"Schools and colleges have spent months diligently following detailed guidance to produce centre-assessed grades, only to find they might as well not have bothered.”


But Mr Williamson on Thursday said he “never wanted to be in a situation where we had to cancel exams”, something that had happened “right across the globe”.

He said the Department for Education had long worked to “ensure there's checks and balances and fairness within the system” for grading exams England.

“But what is clear to me is there will be some youngsters, no matter how much we try to do in terms of the system to maximise the fairness of it, there will be some youngsters who don't get the grade that they should have potentially have got,” he told Times Radio.

“And that's why we need to have a really robust system.

“That's why we’ve got the triple lock. 

“So if youngsters do not feel...they've got the result that they should have done and the school doesn't think that's the case, they have proper and robust grounds of appeal.

“They also have a situation of being able to take a set of exams themselves a little bit later on in the year, because that's probably the ultimate arbiter as to what grade they should truly have got.”

He added: “It’s trying to give as much robustness, as much fairness for the students. 

“And if I look under every single stone I possibly can do in order to be able to maximise that fairness, I think that's the right thing for me to do as education secretary.”


Exams regulator Ofqual has said pupils who get their results on Thursday and want to appeal will have to wait until next week before they find out how they can do so.

In a statement it said: "We understand why the Government has wanted to provide some additional assurance for students, by confirming that evidence from valid mock exams can be considered as part of an appeal.

"We are working urgently to operationalise this as fairly as possible and to determine what standards of evidence will be required for the appeal. We will provide more detail early next week.

"We will continue to do everything possible to ensure students achieve grades that are as fair as possible in the circumstances this summer.”

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