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By Lord Watson of Wyre Forest
Press releases

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson facing calls to quit over 'shambolic' handling of A-level results

Gavin Williamson has defended his approach to England's exam system

3 min read

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson is facing calls to quit over his "shambolic" handling of A-level results.

Liberal Democrat education spokesperson Layla Moran branded the Cabinet minister "out of his depth" as she urged him to step down for causing "untold confusion and distress" to pupils in England.

And Labour are calling on the Government to emulate its Scottish counterpart and rely on teachers’ predicted grades instead of marks moderated centrally in the wake of exams being cancelled by the coronavirus pandemic.

A-level results released on Thursday show that 35.6% of marks in England were adjusted down by one grade, with a further 3.3% downgraded by two grades and 0.2% reduced by three grades.

An estimated 280,000 grades were impacted by the 'standardisation' model which saw examiners apply schools' historic performance to predictions provided by teachers in an effort to maintain consistency with previous results.

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, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson 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 as part of a "triple lock" policy.

But Ms Moran said ministers should ensure pupils should be allowed to appeal their results or sit new exams at the earliest possible opportunity with no charges.

"The shambolic handling of A-level results has left many young people in crisis," she said.

"Despite the warning signs from Scotland, the Education Secretary pushed ahead with plans which ignored teachers’ advice and have disproportionately affected pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. With this unfair system, he has created untold confusion and distress."

And she said:  "Gavin Williamson is an Education Secretary out of his depth and out of excuses. He must take responsibility for his mistakes and step down with immediate effect.

"Our young people and our country cannot afford these blunders to continue into September, ahead of a potential second wave."

The comments come after Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer called for ministers to tear up the current system and award students with their teacher-predicted grades.

"The unprecedented and chaotic circumstances created by the UK Government’s mishandling of education during recent months mean that a return to teacher assessments is now the best option available," Sir Keir said.

"No young person should be at a detriment due to Government incompetence."

He added: "Time is running out. We need action in days, not weeks. That also means an urgent technical review of the standardisation model ahead of GCSE results next week. We need to end this fiasco."


Defending the Government’s actions on Thursday, the Education Secretary said the “triple lock” system allowing appeals or resits would “put its arm around those youngsters where there has been a grade that is unfair on them” and help "to put that right".

He added: "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."

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