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Gavin Williamson on why cancelling exams will not hold students back

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Coronavirus, GCSE, GCSE results, Ofqual

Writing in the Sun, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson explained why the cancellation of GCSE and A level exams due to the Covid-19 pandemic will not hold students back

The summer holiday is well under way and I can safely say that our schools and colleges deserve this one more than usual.

It has been a really difficult school year for so many teachers, pupils and parents.

We have all had to cope with the ­disruption caused by the Covid-19 ­outbreak.

But for students who had been preparing for exams, it has been ­particularly difficult.

I know how disappointing it will have been to have worked so hard then not have the satisfaction of sitting an exam and showing what you can do.

Cancelling exams was not a decision taken lightly, as they are the fairest way to see what progress students have made.

But it was the right thing to do to keep our schools, colleges and wider ­communities safe.

To ensure students could still receive results, we had to come up with a grading system that was fair and which reflected all their years of hard work.

That is why Ofqual, the independent exams watchdog, developed a method for calculating grades which is robust and takes into account how well students were expected to do.

It involved asking schools and colleges to submit the grade they thought each student would have got if exams had gone ahead, taking into account factors such as completed coursework and ­students’ performance in class.

You might have seen some reports that suggest the grades submitted by teachers may be changed by exam boards.

This is because it is essential that submitted grades are “standardised” to ensure they are consistent and are fair for students.

Let me spell out what this means.

Teachers and school and college staff are the very best people to submit grades because they know their ­students better than anyone. However, they are not ­examiners.

As a result, schools and ­colleges might have done things slightly differently from one another. This is why “standardising” grades is so vital. It makes sure results are ­consistent across the country.

That means adjusting the grades ­submitted by schools and colleges to keep the final results as similar as possible to previous years, when students sat national exams.

If we did not do this and grades shot up at a national level, it would undermine their value because universities, colleges and employers would be far less likely to trust them.

Ofqual has told us that at A-level, if we did not standardise grades there could be up to 12 per cent more As and A*s awarded nationally than in previous years. We would expect increases across other grades and qualifications too.

Every year, students’ exam results are their passport to the next stage in their life. This year will be no ­different.

These results will do for students exactly what they have done every year — open the same doors and provide the same exciting opportunities.

Students this year will be able to move on to A-levels, brand-new T-levels, ­college, university, apprenticeships or jobs as usual.

I know our universities, colleges, apprenticeship providers and employers will also want to do their bit in making sure all young people can progress.

So I am hoping this year, more than ever, they will consider all aspects of ­students’ applications.

That is not because these grades will be any less valid than in previous years but because I know there will be a small number of students who were unable to receive grades or who think they would have done better had they sat exams.

And while Ofqual has developed the fairest possible grading model, it is right that we do everything we can to make sure young people are not being ­disadvantaged.

I am confident that we have taken the fairest approach possible in these ­unprecedented times.

And any student who feels they have not been awarded the grade they deserve has the option of taking exams this autumn to improve their results.

I know this year is not the one any of us expected.

But for students about to start the next stage of their life I can promise: This will not hold you back.

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