GCSE students and their teachers sat through a day of confusion on Tuesday about when they would get their final grades, following a series of contradictory announcements by the government.
Education secretary Gavin Williamson was accused of ”repeated incompetence” after his department said schools and college students would receive their teacher-predicted grades on Thursday, but also that “official results will be released to students next week”.
The secretary of state himself confused matters further by going on breakfast television and telling students they would, in fact, receive their highest grades on Thursday and then only official “certification” next week – a crucial difference for pupils worried about college and apprenticeship placements.
It was left to exam boards to clarify the situation with an emergency statement just seven hours before results were due to be sent to schools.
The latest fiasco comes less than 24 hours after the government was forced to U-turn on allocating grades by a controversial algorithm that on average penalised sixth form colleges and comprehensive schools more than independent schools.
Under the new policy, students will be awarded either their teacher-assessed grade or the one calculated by the algorithm, whichever is higher. Mock exam results, which were previously set to be counted, will not be used.
“Only a day after the government were dragged into a screeching U-turn, we have seen fresh confusion on what will happen to young people in the days ahead,” said Kate Green, Labour’s shadow education secretary.
“The repeated incompetence of the education secretary and this government is creating confusion and unease for a generation of young people and their families. If young people do not know all of their grades they could be concerned about losing college and apprenticeship places. This is not acceptable.”
With just seven hours to go until results were due to be sent to schools, a statement from the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) appeared to clarify the matter.
The organisation said: “Following yesterday’s announcement to allow awarding in England, Northern Ireland and Wales of centre assessed grades, the exam boards are working hard to provide the final centre assessment grades (or calculated grade if higher) GCSE results to schools and colleges.
“JCQ can now confirm that all schools and colleges will receive their results … on Wednesday 19 August, allowing students to receive their final grades as usual on Thursday.”
Teachers welcomed the clarity but said the information should have been made clear at an earlier point.
“It hasn’t been helpful at all. I think again, once again, this information surely must have been available much earlier in the day, or even yesterday. It’s yet more wait and confusion literally hours before we’ve been given anything,” Andy Byers, headteacher of Framwellgate School in Durham, told The Independent.
Mr Byers added that school leaders he had spoken to had all interpreted initial government advice in a different way.
The Association of School and College Leaders announced on Tuesday that would be formally writing to Mr Williamson to request an immediate independent review into the grading fiasco.
“There is an urgent need for the Department for Education to commission an immediate independent review which will rapidly establish exactly what went wrong with the process for awarding grades to A-level and GCSE students this summer, and to publish its findings and recommendations,” said general secretary Geoff Barton said.
“This degree of transparency is necessary at a time when public confidence has been badly shaken. It seems to be clear that the statistical model for moderating centre-assessed grades was flawed, and that it produced many anomalous results. But how did this happen, why were the problems not foreseen, and why were ministers not on top of this?”
He added: “Most importantly, what lessons can we learn for the future? While the government plans for students to sit GCSEs and A-levels next summer, there is currently no plan B if there is widespread disruption because of coronavirus.
“The government and Ofqual should be putting in place a robust contingency plan, drawing on the lessons from this summer’s debacle.”
Ofqual chair Roger Taylor and Mr Williamson on Monday afternoon apologised for the “distress” caused to students and parents.
But Mr Williamson has dodged questions about whether he should resign. Speaking on BBC Breakfast, he said: “What we’re doing is we’re focusing on delivering the grades for those children.
“We’re making sure that we’re going to make sure that all schools are returned and I’m absolutely determined over the coming year that I’m going to be delivering the world’s best education system.”