Skip to main content

Testing, Marking and Examination Systems

Volume 679: debated on Monday 7 September 2020

Exams are the best and fairest way of judging students’ performance. Following the difficulties experienced with awarding grades this summer, we are determined that exams should go ahead next year. We are working with Ofqual, the exams boards and other stakeholders to consider our approach to ensure that they are fair.

The Minister is the one permanent feature in the Department for Education—he has been there for 10 years—but surely he must admit that many families and students were hurt by the chaos and instability in his Department. It is no good trying to blame Ofqual and Ofsted; the responsibility lies in the instability and lack of firm leadership in his Department. What is he going to do about it?

When we were aware of the problems with the A-level results, we took swift action. Ofqual decided to move to centre-assessment grades and within 48 hours of that decision being taken the recalculated A-level grades were sent to all schools. The GCSE results on the new basis were also given to schools to enable them to give them to their students on the scheduled day, 20 August. The model used to ensure we were able to give students qualifications, notwithstanding the fact that we had to cancel exams because of the pandemic, was supported in a wide-ranging consultation by the regulator. It was supported by 89% of respondents, and a similar model was used in all four nations of the United Kingdom.

The fiasco surrounding last month’s exam results caused huge distress to students, their parents and teachers, and chaos for universities and colleges. Now it turns out that the Secretary of State was repeatedly warned of the dangers of the system of calculated grades and the flawed standardisation methodology he adopted. He was warned by a former senior official of the Department, he was warned by the regulator and he was warned by what happened in Scotland. Why did he ignore those warnings?

Those warnings were not ignored. Every time we heard from people such as Cambridge Assessment, Jon Coles and others, we raised those issues with Ofqual. All the various challenges made by individuals were raised with Ofqual. We were assured by the regulator that overall the model was fair. We pressed Ofqual strongly on the appeals arrangements that would address any issues for individual students which arose as a result of the operation of the model. No model is as accurate as young people taking the exams themselves, but when the A-level results were published on 13 August it became clear that there were anomalies and injustices in the results that went beyond the anomalies we had been made of aware and for which we had put in place an enhanced appeal process. As I said earlier, swift action was taken to ensure that all young people got the just and fair results they deserve.