17th August 2020

Education Policy Institute response to government U-turn on GCSEs and A levels

Commenting on today’s decision by the government to revert to centre assessed grades (CAG) for both A levels and GCSEs, David Laws, Executive Chairman of the Education Policy Institute (EPI), said:

“Given the multiple problems that we have experienced with results over the last week, moving to teacher assessed grades for both GCSEs and A levels in England seems to be the fairest and most pragmatic approach.

“Under the previous system it was clear that Ofqual had got the balance wrong, placing too much emphasis on maintaining standards and not enough on ensuring fairness to individual students. Fairness should have always been placed ahead of standards. The government’s U-turn now ensures this by tipping the scales the other way.

“Schools will now breathe a sigh of relief, as they can now focus on the challenge of getting students back into the classroom in September, instead of having to deal with an incoherent and demanding system of appeals.

“The government should immediately establish an independent review of how this year’s results were handled, so that we can learn the lessons for the future and not repeat the many errors that have occurred this year. It should also consider the options for exams in 2021, given next year’s candidates will have already been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic and there remains a chance of further lockdowns.”

“While the government’s reversal on grades was on balance the correct decision, it is also important to acknowledge that relying solely on teacher assessed grades is not without complications, and may open up another box of problems.

“Universities must now offer maximum flexibility for those A level students who had missed out on a place under the previous grading system. Those students who were originally offered a place under teacher assessed grades should now have their place reinstated or deferred to next year.

“The government can support this by lifting the cap that they have placed on student numbers in higher education this year, but in doing so they will need to be mindful of protecting those institutions that are less in demand and may struggle to recruit in sufficient numbers.

“For GCSE students, the vast majority will choose to remain in education, so increases in student numbers caused by higher grades will have to be managed by the school and college system. The government must offer greater flexibility in the funding system to ensure that schools and colleges have the capacity to take on any additional students.”