Family & Education

A Level results day was shattering, says King David Manchester High School chairman

Joshua Rowe did not blame the government for grading turmoil, but the 'unchartered waters' the pandemic put the country in


Britain's Education Secretary Gavin Williamson arrives in Downing Street in central London on May 1, 2020. - Britain is "past the peak" of its coronavirus outbreak, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Thursday, despite recording another 674 deaths in the last 24 hours, taking the toll to 26,711. (Photo by Tolga AKMEN / AFP) (Photo by TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images)

Joshua Rowe, the chairman of King David Manchester High School, was not pointing fingers.

When some students received their A-levels on Thursday, before the government’s U-turn, the experience had been “shattering”, he said.

But the turmoil of the past week was ultimately a knock-on effect of the pandemic, he said. “I am not blaming the government. We are living in times we have not experienced before. I feel the whole country is in unchartered waters.”

The now much-criticsed formula devised by the exam regulator Ofqual to standardise results had not been tested against reality, he said. “There was no manual, no prototype.”

However, he did believe that exams could have gone ahead in summer, taking into account that students may not have competed the syllabus. “We were able to do our year-12 exams in school,” he said.

Others were less understanding. Sam Freedman, a former adviser to Michael Gove as Education Secretary, told BBC’s Newsnight on Tuesday he was “surprised” that the current Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, was still in his job.

That Mr Williamson was saying that he had only become aware of the problem with Ofqual’s formula at the weekend “just beggars belief,” he said.

When Ofqual published its public guidance to this year’s results back in April, parents and pupils would understandably have taken its promise to be “as fair as possible” at face value.

The regulator explained that instead of the cancelled exams, results would be based on grades submitted by schools, using mock exams, assessments and other student work. Within each grade band, schools were also asked to rank students. Then to ensure consistency across the system and guard against grade inflation, the grades would undergo “external standardisation process”. This, the regulator said, would be based on the previous academic record of the school over the previous three years.

While there were some who subsequently questioned the approach, it was only after events in Scotland earlier this month and the disclosure by Ofqual in the run-up to results day on Thursday that nearly 40 per cent of teacher grades would be lowered that the alarm was raised.

Pajes, the Jewish Leadership Council’s schools network, said the situation that had put many school leaders under extreme stress over the past few days “could have been avoided or ameliorated a lot sooner”.

But it added that the U-turn on results “highlights an over reliance on the outcomes of examinations and perhaps it is time to reassess our educational priorities and look for additional methods for assessing and recognising students’ achievements.”

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