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JCoSS head castigates government over A-levels ‘failure of the greatest magnitude’

Patrick Moriarty called for an apology for the impact on students

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The headteacher of a Jewish comprehensive which enjoyed record A-level grades last week has hit out at a “policy failure of the greatest magnitude” amid widespread anger at the government over the results. 

Patrick Moriarty, head of the cross-communal JCoSS in East Barnet, called for a “meaningful acknowledgment” of the failure by ministers including Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and an apology for the impact on students. 

Exams regulator Ofqual’s withdrawal of guidance on how to appeal only a few hours after it had been published at the weekend had “turned drama into farce”, Mr Moriarty said in a letter to the local MP Theresa Villiers. 

Not to have an appeals system in place four days after results were published was “simply unforgiveable and an insult to the hard work of schools and students”, he said. 

With the cancellation of A-levels and GCSEs this summer because of coronavirus, grades were instead based on teacher assessments submitted by schools and colleges. 

But close to 40 per cent of teacher grades were lowered in England by Ofqual using a statistical system which took into account the school’s performance in previous years. 

Despite JCoSS’s overall success, 52 per cent of student grades at the school were lowered from teacher predictions. 

“The impact on individual students has been devastating – with university places lost for some of our hardest working and most reliable students, and uncertainty for many more,” he said.  

While there was always some element of surprise and upset on results day, he said, “the scale of disappointment and the anger and sense of injustice is huge”. 

He said he shared the view of many heads that using mock results as the basis of an appeal was wrong. “I share too the view that calling this a ‘triple lock’ when all that was offered was the ability to appeal was dishonest,” he added. 

The triple lock announced by Education Secretary Gavin Williamson last week gave schools the option of accepting grades, appealing on the basis of mocks or students sitting an exam next term. 

Had there been a rapid appeal system, Mr Moriarty said, “the situation might have been salvageable.  I cannot see how it is now.” 

Calling on the government to change tack and now accept grades based on teacher assessment, he acknowledged it carried the risk of grade inflation. 

“Grade inflation – like all inflation – may be unfair but it at least achieves the ‘levelling up’ that the Prime Minister has spoken of as a One Nation aspiration, something sorely needed at the moment," he said. 

“The grades as they stand appear to many to ‘bake in’ privilege, to reinforce disadvantage, and to adversely affect those already exercised by the issues raised by Black Lives Matter and other movements.   

“These are issues that motivate and mobilise not only the disadvantaged but also those who – as we educate them to at JCoSS – have a sense of social responsibility and wish to stand up for others.” 

Conservative MP Robert Halfon, the chairman of the parliamentary education select committee, has urged the government to adopt a fairer appeals system. 

He has also suggested the government consider “pretty quickly” whether to go ahead with the release of GCSE results on Thursday. 

Mr Halfon also told Talk Radio that Ofqual needed to “stop behaving like Cardinals at the Vatican, shrouded in secrecy, and actually come out and communicate”.  

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