Thursday, 20 August 2020

Supporting our students

When the country entered the lockdown phase some time ago now, one of the decisions initially taken to protect people and stop the spread of the virus was for schools to only remain open for parents of key workers. A consequence of this was that children across the country partook in online learning with many teachers coming up with innovative methods of teaching. At the same time the Secretary of State for Education confirmed that assessments and exams would not be taking place this year and that work was underway with the sector and Ofqual to ensure that young people would receive the qualifications they need.
Whilst it was not possible for exams to go ahead the Department for Education worked with Ofqual to identify a way of awarding grades in conjunction with schools and assessment centres. Undoubtedly there would be limitations to such an approach, however an appeals system was quickly implemented to help with any schools or colleges that had experienced a process or data error. 
On Thursday last week when A level and AS level grades were awarded, there was an overall increase in the top grades. At A level, 2.5% more students received an A* or an A, attainment was broadly in line with previous years, and more students got into university than ever before, including more from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Unfortunately, it also became clear that the algorithm used to help calculate the grades revealed a number of anomalies that had not been anticipated by Ofqual which undermined confidence in the system. On Friday I spoke to the head teacher at Camborne School of Science and International Academy who subsequently raised some of the concerns that they had over the process. Over the weekend I also received representations from concerned parents and students who had been affected by the lower grades that they had received. I subsequently raised these concerns with officials and it was clear that nationally the system had resulted in too many inconsistent and unfair outcomes.
As a result, earlier this week, the Education Secretary has confirmed that GCSE students will therefore receive their centre assessment grades on Thursday, or their calculated grade if it was higher. A level students will be reissued with their centre assessment grades – any who received a calculated grade higher than their centre assessment grade will still receive the higher.
Understandably this move will create different pressures for universities, but the Department for Education are working closely with the sector to create additional capacity and ensure that they are as flexible as possible and that they honour all offers made and met. Students who previously missed their offer and will now meet it on the basis of their centre assessment grade should get in contact with the university. Those who have accepted another offer will be able to release themselves if they have a preferred offer reinstated. I hope that in the weeks ahead, many more local students can now pursue their ambition and take the next step in their careers.

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