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A-levels: Unions condemn Government over ‘political Punch and Judy show’

Union leaders are urging minister to resolve the problems before GCSE results day on Thursday.

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Union leaders are urging the Government to take action to restore confidence for A-level students (Jonathan Brady/PA Wire)

Union leaders are urging the Government to take action to restore confidence for A-level students (Jonathan Brady/PA Wire)

Union leaders are urging the Government to take action to restore confidence for A-level students (Jonathan Brady/PA Wire)

Education unions have condemned the Government for the “political Punch and Judy show” over its handling of issues surrounding A-levels.

Their comments follow the decision by England’s exams regulator Ofqual to suspend its appeals policy, which took into account mock exam results, hours after it issued the guidance on Saturday.

The sudden withdrawal has been criticised by students, families and community leaders, with some urging the Government to “get a grip” of the situation before millions of pupils receive their GCSE results on Thursday.

In a letter to members of the school leaders’ union NAHT, general secretary Paul Whiteman described the the “fiasco” surrounding A-level results as a “political Punch and Judy show”.

He said: “The focus should be about finding solutions for those young people, not debating the rights and wrongs of a model to save political blushes. It is far too late for that.

“The Government needs to get a grip and take rapid and decisive action to restore confidence, fairness and stability both for young people that received their A-level grades last week but also those receiving their GSCEs in the days to come.”

The furore has led to some students taking legal action against Ofqual after its “moderated” algorithm downgraded their results, leaving many missing out on university places.

Scores of students descended on Parliament Square in London on Sunday to take part in a protest in response to the downgrading of A-level results.

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People take part in a protest in Parliament Square, London (Jonathan Brady/PA)

People take part in a protest in Parliament Square, London (Jonathan Brady/PA)

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People take part in a protest in Parliament Square, London (Jonathan Brady/PA)

It comes after students were assured by the Department for Education that they could use the highest result out of their teacher’s predicted grade, their mock exam or sitting a full exam in the autumn.

But the Ofqual guidance on Saturday, which has since been taken down, said that if the mock result was higher than the teacher’s prediction then the latter would count.

Vice-president for higher education at the National Union of Students (NUS) Hillary Gyebi-Ababio said members are petitioning for an overhaul of the grading system and for accessible appeals.

She added: “The decision to retract official guidance only acts to complicate and add further insult to injury.

“We urge the Government to step up and support students with clear direction and a plan to restrategise the entire moderation system for students during this challenging time.”

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Geoff Barton (Jason Senior/ASCL/PA)

Geoff Barton (Jason Senior/ASCL/PA)

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Geoff Barton (Jason Senior/ASCL/PA)

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “We suspect that the Ofqual guidance on appeals has been withdrawn because it is a recipe for even more chaos.”

He said that while moderation is right in principle it has not worked in practice.

He added: “This isn’t the fault of Ofqual, but the result of a hospital pass from the Government which panicked and announced that mock results would trump moderated grades on appeal, with no idea of how to make that happen.

“The Government must now get a grip of this situation, stop digging itself a deeper hole, and do what seems the inevitable solution, which is to restore teacher-assessed grades.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Hundreds of thousands of students have received a calculated grade that will enable them to progress to the next stage of their education or into work.

“We have been clear that we want to build as much fairness into the appeals process as possible to help young people in the most difficult cases and have been working with Ofqual to achieve that.

“Ofqual continues to consider how to best deliver the appeals process to give schools and pupils the clarity they need.”

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