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Wed, 30 September 2020

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Labour call for clarity on English exams after thousands of Scottish pupils have results downgraded

Labour call for clarity on English exams after thousands of Scottish pupils have results downgraded

Labour have called for urgent clarity over the exam process in England

3 min read

Labour have called for urgent clarity over how English exam results are to be decided after thousands of Scottish pupils saw their results downgraded.

Shadow Education Secretary Kate Green urged ministers to ensure they do not "exacerbate existing inequalities" when they are released later this month, following a major row over the system used north of the border.

Secondary school exams in both countries were cancelled earlier this year as a result of the coronavirus crisis, with teachers asked to submit predicted grades for their students which are then moderated by exam boards.

But almost a quarter of pupils in Scotland saw their predicted grades downgraded by the Scottish Qualifications Authority, with examiners using schools' previous performances to standarise results.

It resulted in pass rates for Higher exams dropping by 15.2% from the estimates submitted by teachers in the most deprived schools, compared to only 6.9% in the least deprived.

Hitting out at the system, opposition parties in Scotland said it had damaged the future prospects of many pupils who had been unfairly marked down due to the location of their school.

And the row has sparked fears there could be similar cases when A-Level results are released next week, and GCSEs the following week.

In a letter to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson, Ms Green said the experience had "impacted on teacher and student confidence" ahead of results day.

"Yesterday's disastrous handling of Highers results in Scotland shows what can go wrong when computer algorithms drive students' grades, and politicians wash their hands of responsibility," she said.

"With A-level results just over a week away, and GCSE results due the week after, it's imperative the Government acts now to reassure worried students, teachers and parents.

"Young people deserve to have their hard work assessed on merit, but the system risks baking in inequality and doing most harm to students from disadvantaged backgrounds, those from Ethnic Minority groups and those with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities."

She added: "Ministers must urgently set out how they'll ensure the results next week will not exacerbate existing inequalities, and what extra support they'll give to students who feel they've been unfairly graded to navigate the appeals process."

The warning comes after MPs on the Education Select Committee said last month the standardisation process adopted across the UK risked harming disadvantaged pupils due to "unconcious bias" when they were awarded predicted grades.

The group said ministers should take extra steps to provide an equal playing field for the appeals process after they found the current system favoured "the well-heeled and sharp-elbowed".

Committee chair Robert Halfon, a Conservative MP, said: "We have serious worries about the fairness of the model developed by Ofqual.

"There is a risk it will lead to unfair bias and discrimination against already disadvantaged groups."

The Department for Education has been approached for comment.

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