A-level and GCSE results in England will now be awarded to students based on teachers’ predicted grades after a major government U-turn.
It comes after the government faced a revolt from Conservative MPs – including ministers Penny Mordaunt and Johnny Mercer – over the crisis which saw nearly 40% of A-level results downgraded as a result of exam regulator Ofqual’s algorithm aimed at standardising results.
The algorithm, used after exams were called off due to the coronavirus pandemic, has now been abandoned after widespread outrage since A-level results were released on Thursday. It appeared to unfairly hinder high-achieving students from lower-performing schools.
Announcing the U-turn on Monday, Ofqual admitted it had “caused real anguish and damaged public confidence”.
Chairman Roger Taylor said: “We have therefore decided that students be awarded their centre assessment for this summer – that is, the grade their school or college estimated was the grade they would most likely have achieved in their exam – or the moderated grade, whichever is higher.”
Tens of thousands of A-level students will now see their grades increased.
Education secretary Gavin Williamson, who is facing growing calls to resign, apologised in a statement for the “significant inconsistencies” in grading.
“I... hope this announcement will now provide the certainty and reassurance they deserve,” he added.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the “screeching U-turn” was a “victory” for those who had been impacted by the grading system.
Starmer added the government’s handling of the issue “has been a complete fiasco” and that Boris Johnson – currently on holiday in Scotland – is “holding Britain back”.
Liberal Democrat education spokeswoman and leadership candidate Layla Moran, meanwhile, called for Williamson to go: “While it is embarrassing for the government, it has been excruciating for students. It is clear the education secretary is out of his depth.
“If he doesn’t walk, he must be pushed.”
YouGov polling carried out before the announcement found 40% of Britons think Williamson should resign.
Meanwhile, 75% of the 2,384 people surveyed think the government has handled the exam results situation badly.
The England announcement followed similar U-turns by the Welsh and Northern Irish governments earlier on Monday.
The Scottish government was also forced into a backtrack last week after a major backlash about the moderation system used there.
Before Monday, Williamson had claimed there would be “no U-turn, no change” and that a shift like Scotland’s would lead to “rampant grade inflation”.
GCSE results are set to be released on Thursday, with Downing Street having earlier insisted there will not be a delay amid the A-level row.
Meanwhile, a leading education body has called for the government to “step up” and support universities because “more students will have the grades that match the offer of their first-choice university”.
Universities UK chief executive Alistair Jarvis said: “This will cause challenges at this late stage in the admissions process – capacity, staffing, placements and facilities – particularly with the social distance measures in place.”