Almost every publication, including this site, has been critical of the Government’s U-turn on school exams in England.
Gavin Williamson’s decision to move from Ofqual’s model, which resulted in 40 per cent of predicted marks being downgraded, to teacher-assessed grades for A Levels and GCSEs (unless the grades produced by the algorithm are higher) caused chaos among students and teachers.
Now it’s universities who’ll have to deal with the consequences, given that many teenagers have different marks to before and want to change which one they go to.
As you might expect from the leader of the opposition, Keir Starmer has been scathing about the recent events. On his Twitter feed he is particularly fond of one word – “incompetent/ incompetence”, which he has accused the Government of being seven times since Sunday (heaven forbid there’s a thesaurus at Labour HQ).
After teacher-assessed grades (predicted grades) were accepted, he declared the changes a “victory for the thousands of young people who have powerfully made their voices heard this past week.”
Of course, it’s very easy for Labour to take the high road in these times, but its own position on exam results hasn’t been clear exactly.
In April, for instance, Angela Rayner, the party’s Deputy now, but Shadow Education Secretary then, criticised predicted grades, telling FE News:
“we have always said predicted grades are not always accurate, and can disproportionately affect the children who need the most support”.
In August 2019, she also said:
“Predicted grades are wrong in the vast majority of cases, and disadvantaged students in particular are losing out on opportunities on the basis of those inaccurate predictions.”
Similarly, Kate Green, the now Shadow Education Secretary, was sceptical about predicted grades – and argued for grades to be standardised in July:
“Labour has argued for years that predicted grades already create significant challenges for disadvantaged students, and without fair standardisation and appeals many more students could be unfairly affected by calculated grades. The Government and Ofqual must urgently act to ensure that young people from ethnic minority and disadvantaged backgrounds do not lose out under this system”.
However, she has since called the results a “farce that is incredibly cruel to young people”, adding that teacher-assessed grades were the right way forward.
Indeed, she celebrated their implementation, Tweeting: “Well done to all students, parents and teachers who have campaigned for this u-turn. I am so pleased GCSE & A level results will be on basis of teacher assessment as you and @UK Labour called for.”
For all the horror about England, too, some have pointed out the party’s silence over results in Wales.
On Good Morning Britain, Rayner said the fact that 40 per cent of students had their marks downgraded was “completely unfair” and “completely flawed”. Starmer, too, launched a video which said “The Tories’ incompetent handling of this year’s exams” was “robbing a generation of their future”.
But given that 42 per cent of grades were downgraded in Wales, as a result of a similar algorithm, where was the video about Welsh Labour robbing futures?
For some Tory MPs, Labour’s complaints are too little, too late.
Robert Halfon, Chair of the Commons Education Select Committee, told me: the “opposition parties mostly accepted the grading system that the Government and Ofqual had chosen, as did the trade unions. It’s easier to jump on a bandwagon after the event, but there were very few who were actually calling this out from the beginning.”
His colleague Jonathan Gullis echoed this sentiment, saying: “As a member of the Select Committee, we had spoken with Ofqual, and as I remember there were no serious concerns raised other than making sure that grades would be handed out as fairly as possible in exceptional circumstances.”
Speaking of Starmer, he added “[he] once again jumps on any bandwagon going. We heard nothing from him in the build up to results day about the system; in fact, the Shadow Education Minister, now Deputy Leader, was in favour of what Ofqual was doing. But once again Sir Keir Starmer is more interested in trying to please the people of Twitter and the mainstream media.”
Perhaps the Labour leader knows more about “incompetence” than he thinks…