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UK Government vows ‘triple lock’ for A-level results in bid to avoid repeat of Scottish exams fiasco

The new ‘triple lock’ system will allow students to appeal their calculated exam results and ask for mocks to be taken into account. (PA)

4 min read

Ministers are making a last-minute change to the A-level results system in a bid to avoid a repeat of problems that have dogged Scottish exams this year.

Ahead of England’s results being announced on Thursday, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson promised a new “triple lock” process would allow students to rely on grades from their mock exams if required.

But teaching unions accused the Government of a "panicked and chaotic" u-turn.

The move comes after the Scottish government bowed to protests over the way grades have been calculated this year in the wake of coronavirus forcing the cancellation of exams.

In Scotland, grades were linked to the performance of a school in previous years — but pupils’ results will now be based on teachers’ predicted grades without an additional moderating process.

For England, Mr Williamson is now promising that pupils getting A-level results will be able to accept their calculated grade, appeal to receive valid mock exam results, or sit further exams in the autumn. 

The Department for Education said all outcomes “will hold the same value for universities, colleges and employers”, with exams regulatory Ofqual asked to look at how mock exams results can be used to calculate grades.


Mr Williamson said: “Every young person waiting for their results wants to know they have been treated fairly. 

“By ensuring students have the safety net of their mock results, as well as the chance of sitting autumn exams, we are creating a triple lock process to ensure confidence and fairness in the system.”

He added: “No one wanted to cancel exams – they are the best form of assessment, but the disruption caused by Covid-19 meant they were not possible.

“This triple lock system will help provide reassurance to students and ensure they are able to progress with the next stage of their lives.”

The DfE said the changes would provide additional reassurance for the calculated grades system, which is being used in the absence of exams.

While pupils will still receive grades based on the judgement of their school or college, moderated by exam boards, the new mock exam appeals option will allow them to challenge results if they are unhappy.

David Simmonds, a Conservative member of the Commons Education Committee, said “there was no perfect solution available” to ministers.

“One of the things that emerged during the week with the results in Scotland was that the algorithm that they'd used seemed to produce particularly inconsistencies that affected pupils from the most disadvantaged backgrounds,” he told BBC Newsnight.

“And when we tested this question with ministers affecting England, the response we had was that there's a different algorithm that when it's been tested doesn't show up the same level inconsistency. 

“But clearly what's being brought in now is a bit of an additional backstop so that students who are not satisfied with the result that the algorithm has given them, and who don't wish to go for resits in the autumn, could also use the mock exam results if they've got those and feel that they would give them a better and fairer outcome.”


But Geoff Barton, general secretary of the ASCL school leaders’ union, said the “idea of introducing at the eleventh hour a system in which mock exam results trump calculated grades beggars belief”.

He added: “The Government doesn’t appear to understand how mock exams work. 

“They aren’t a set of exams which all conform to the same standards. The clue is in the name ‘mock’. And some students will not have taken them by the time that schools were closed in March. 

“So, this immediately creates the potential for massive inconsistency.

“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.

“There is certainly concern about the standardisation process applied by the exam boards, but there are also good reasons for having this system in place because it ensures that this year’s grades are roughly in line with those of previous years, and this is important in terms of fairness to students over time. 

“If the government wanted to change the system it should have spent at least a few days discussing the options rather than rushing out a panicked and chaotic response.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer meanwhile warned the approach to this year's exams risked "robbing a generation of young people of their future".

"It's a blatant injustice that thousands of hard-working young people risk having their futures decided on the basis of their postcode," he said.

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