It would be unfair to adjust A Level and GCSE grades, says Scarborough and Whitby MP Robert Goodwill

Scarborough and Whitby MP Robert Goodwill, a former Education Minister, gives his views on the current exams debate:

Wednesday, 12th August 2020, 2:32 pm
Updated Wednesday, 12th August 2020, 3:06 pm

Teachers have every right to be optimistic and enthusiastic about their students’ achievements.

But that does not mean that they should be allowed, as they have in Scotland, to inflate predicted A Level and GCSE grades when there is no evidence to suggest there has been a dramatic improvement in academic standards.

According to recent analysis by the exams regulator Ofqual, teachers in England have bumped-up predicted A Level marks by 12 per cent on average and GCSE marks by 9 per cent.

"There is nothing new about students falling short of the grades they need"

No doubt this is borne of good intentions and pride for pupils’ abilities. But if grades are not adjusted to bring them into line with previous years’ results, there will be a whole range of unintended consequences.

Most obviously it would discriminate against children who sat exams last year and earlier, who would have performed the same as this year’s cohort but received worse grades.

But it would also be extremely unfair to students who will sit exams next year when, hopefully, schools will have returned to normal.

Robert Goodwill

They would be doubly penalised, as they already face the disadvantage of having lost months of classroom teaching because of the disruption caused by coronavirus.

It is understandable if the U turn by Nicola Sturgeon brings joy to students whose predicted grades had been marked down. But what about the Scottish students who sat these exams last year?

Relatively speaking they have now all been marked down. The same will apply to Scots students who take these exams next year. Unless Miss Sturgeon artificially inflates their exam grades they will have right to feel equally aggrieved.

This decision may bring Miss Sturgeon short term popularity – I suspect it is no coincidence she faces an election next year.

As is often the case with political decisions that bring short term popularity it may not be a good idea in the long term. I hope Boris Johnson does not fall into the same trap.

Crucially, there is no evidence to suggest that controlling grade inflation will increase the attainment gap between children from poorer backgrounds and those who are more fortunate, or that bright children from poor performing schools will be adversely affected.

In fact the reverse is true: the Government has already made major strides in addressing this problem through a wide range of interventions starting from the age of three.

And where there is genuine evidence that grades have been marked down for pupils at a school where standards have increased in the last year because of improved teaching, or it has recently become an academy, this will be taken into account in appeals.

Meanwhile claims that many pupils will see A Level results drastically downgraded as much as from A grade to D are wide of the mark.

Invariably, the adjusted results will be only dropped one grade where the teachers have ranked them towards the bottom of the higher grade range.

Of course, children who fall short of the grades they needed for university are bound to be disappointed – but they need not lose hope.

A big drop in overseas students caused by the pandemic means that there will be more places available than usual through the clearing process.

(I might add university Vice-Chancellors need all the £9,000 a year tuition fees they can get to bolster their astronomic salaries.)

And it should be remembered there is nothing new about students falling short of the grades they need. My own daughter had to resit her Maths A Level to get into her molecular genetics course.

We have now offered schools free resits in the Autumn and also given the school the possibility of appealing a students grad on the basis of the mock exam.

Ultimately, the Government’s overriding objective has been to ensure that students receive qualifications this summer which have the same value as in any other year and which will enable them to move on successfully to the next stage of their lives – be that college, university or an apprenticeship in the workplace.

This process will deliver that.