England’s Exams Regulator Fights Back Over Virus Grading Fiasco

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England’s qualifications regulator hit back at criticism over its role in this summer’s grading fiasco, saying it tried to persuade ministers that school exams should go ahead during the coronavirus lockdown but was overruled.

Ofqual chairman Roger Taylor told the House of Commons education committee on Wednesday the body’s preferred option for A-levels and GCSEs was for the exams to take place in a socially-distanced way, and its second option was for exams to be delayed.

But Education Secretary Gavin Williamson took the decision “without further consultation with Ofqual” that exams would be canceled, he said. This led the regulator to use an algorithm to determine results, which led to widespread chaos in August when A-level students missed out on university places they had been offered.

The algorithm was eventually scrapped and students were allowed to use their schools’ estimated grades, but this decision came too late for many teenagers. Ofqual chief Sally Collier resigned and senior education civil servant Jonathan Slater was forced out by Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Taylor was among three Ofqual leaders at the committee who robustly defended their positions, after Williamson told members of Parliament on Tuesday the algorithm had resulted in “far too many inconsistent and unfair outcomes.”

Taylor said his team had warned Williamson about the dangers of the system.

“We did say right at the outset that the risk here is statistical prediction is not accurate enough and there would definitely be a candidate who would know they would have done better in an exam,” he told the committee. “It was very difficult to see how people would accept this as a fair way to have their grades awarded.”

Kate Green, education spokeswoman for the opposition Labour Party, said Ofqual’s evidence “raised serious questions” about Williamson’s role and said the education secretary should “take responsibility for his own incompetence.”

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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