England’s exams watchdog Ofqual recently admitted that it was a “fundamental mistake” to believe that the public would accept the outcomes of its controversial standardisation algorithm in lieu of actual exam results.
Ofqual chairman Roger Taylor said that ministers were initially advised to hold exams with social distancing in place or delay them until a later date.
Taylor said that the regulator had advised using calculated grades only if holding exams late or under safety regulations was not possible, adding that education secretary Gavin Williamson had made the decision to cancel exams without consulting Ofqual further.
A spokesman for the Department for Education said that cancelling exams was “necessary” to curb the spread of Covid-19.
The spokesman said that the “government never wanted to cancel exams because they are the best and fairest form of assessment” but had to make the “difficult” call after consulting with “a range of parties, including Ofqual”.
During last week’s Prime Minister’s Questions in Parliament, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer pressed the prime minister over when issues with the algorithm first became apparent.
Schools minister Nick Gibb told Sky News in August that concerns over the system were raised as early as July.
Boris Johnson defended his government’s decision to make a U-turn, having used the algorithm to award grades at first, before switching to teachers’ predicted grades.
He said: "We did institute a change, we did act," adding that pupils were given the grades that they deserved.
However, Taylor informed the Commons education select committee that it was a “fundamental mistake to believe this [algorithm] would ever be acceptable to the public.”
The algorithm saw around 40 per cent of A-Level grades downgraded against teacher estimated grades, in some case by two whole grades, sparking fury from schools, colleges, pupils and parents alike.
Chamberlain said: “What has happened to our sixth form students is shocking and appalling.”
Taylor said that Ofqual’s grade calculation strategy simply sought to act under guidance issued by ministers, arguing that the algorithm would have helped disadvantaged pupils.
He also argued that the regulator had repeatedly warned the DfE about risks associated with using estimated grades in lieu of real exams.
Ofqual’s executive director for general qualifications, Julie Swann, highlighted that a paper published on May 1 showed “the risk of widespread dissatisfaction” from students, schools and colleges with the results as determined by the system.
It was only after chaos ensued on A-Level results day that the government made the decision to switch to predicted grades.