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Boris Johnson Calls New Exam Grading System A "Good Compromise" As Details Are Confirmed

Gavin Williamson has announced the new plans for awarding exam grades

4 min read

Details of a new teacher-led grading system for A and AS Levels, and GCSEs have been laid out by the government after education secretary Gavin Williamson confirmed that last summer's algorithm would be ditched.

Prime minister Boris Johnson has described the new grading system as "durable" and the "right way forward" after it was announced that formal exams were being cancelled for the second year in a row.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson revealed the plans in full on Thursday, saying they would not be relying on moderating algorithms following last year's debacle where thousands of students received grades lower than those predicted.

The system also led to accusations that disadvantaged pupils had been hardest hit by the solution.

Williamson confirmed to the House of Commons on Thursday that the algorithm would be scrapped this year. 

"Grades will be awarded on the basis of teachers’ judgment and will only ever be changed by human intervention," he said. 

"This year's students will receive grades determined by their teachers, with assessments covering what they were taught and not what they have missed.

"Teachers have a good understanding of their students' performance and how they compare to other students this year and from those of previous years."

New guidance released today by the Department for Education said teachers would be asked to award qualifications based on new criteria, including:

  • Students' work based on assessments provided by exam boards
  • Coursework, even if not fully completed because of the pandemic
  • Mock exams and internal school tests
  • The overall record of a student's "progress and performance" during their studies

The department said pupils could have work assessed even if it had been delayed or stopped because of "disrupted learning" caused by the pandemic.

The guidance added: "Where this is the case, student should not be penalised."

Williamson said schools would be provided with assessment materials from exam boards by the end of March, as well as requirements for schools' and colleges' to be submit details of their "quality assurance processes" to ensure the marking process is fair.

But pupils will still have to wait until late summer before receiving their grades, with AS and A Level results due to be released on 10 August, with GCSE grades published two days later.The department has also beefed up the appeals process for this year's exams following criticism last year. Instead, they said pupils would be made aware of what work will be assessed before it is submitted and that teacher's would be given the chance to include details of any "mitigating circumstances" which may have had an impact on their performance.

Students will also be given the opportunity to appeal directly to appeal boards who will consider the school's exam process and the evidence put forward.

Meanwhile, Williamson confirmed that in-person exams for other qualifications, including VTQs, could continue provided they were "critical to demonstrate occupation or professional competence" and could be deliver in a Covid-secure way.

But responding to the plans, Conservative MP and chair of the education select committee Robert Halfon, said the system risked a "Wild West of grading" as he called for further clarity over the process for ensuring schools across England judged grades equally.

Shadow education secretary Kate Green hit out at the "anxiety" caused to pupils following the 52 day delay between the decision to cancel exams and Williamson's announcement.

She said that the decision to wait until the end of March further guidance from exam boards would mean "more weeks of anxiety for young people and their teachers".

But speaking during a visit to a school on Thursday afternoon, the Prime Minister insisted the plan was the "right way forward".

"In an ideal world you would not have taken kids out of school because of the pandemic, we wouldn't have been forced to do this," he said.

"And in an ideal world we'd be continuing with exams as you normally have them, and the best place for kids is in the classroom and the best way to check on kids' progress is with normal exams.

"But I think this is as good a compromise as we can come to. I think it will be fair, I think it will be durable and it's the right way forward."

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