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Summer Exam Chaos Saw 900% Rise In The Number Of GCSE Grades Changed, New Analysis Shows

New analysis shows the scale of the summer exams crisis (PA)

2 min read

The number of GCSE grades changed following an appeal rose by 900% this year after the government faced criticism for its handling of the disruption to exams by coronavirus.

According to Ofqual, a total of 27,825 GCSE grades were challenged this summer, representing a 1175% increase on the 2,182 challenged the previous year.

Fresh analysis of the exam regulator’s data also revealed that there was a 620% increase in A Level grades changed, from 197 to 1,420 at the end of the 2019/20 academic year.

Summer exams were cancelled this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, with the majority students’ results calculated via an controversial algorithm drawn up by Ofqual, which factored in both teacher assessments and past grades of the school.

The system faced widespread condemnation in August after thousands of students received GCSE and A-Level results that were significantly lower than than predicted. It was claimed grades were unfairly downgraded in a bid to avoid grade inflation.

Ministers also faced criticism after Ofqual removed its criteria for mock exam results to be considered as the basis of an appeal mere hours after it was published.

Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, was ultimately forced to ditch the algorithm following the outcry, with all A-level and GCSE results in England able to be based on teacher-assessed grades.

Boris Johnson later blamed the crisis on a “mutant algorithm”, a comment which attracted anger from major teaching unions. 

Responding to today's analysis, Nansi Ellis, assistant general secretary for the National Education Union (NEU), said: "No matter the differences in numbers, directly comparing two different awarding and appeals systems for GCSEs, AS and A levels in 2019 and 2020 can’t tell the story of what happened over the summer.

"The numbers for 2020 do give an indication of the distress caused by the government’s mishandling of the awarding of grades in summer 2020.

She continued: "They could have avoided the chaos and upset experienced by many students, parents and education staff had they acted sooner and prioritised fairness for individual students over an obsession with less relevant data and algorithms.

"Unfortunately, these lessons appear not to have been learnt for next summer. NEU members are seriously concerned that the government has yet to fully grasp the issue of differential access to learning which will have such an impact upon the fairness of grades in 2021.”

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