By Sadie Robinson
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Tory retreat on exams still fails to make the grade

This article is over 3 years, 6 months old
Issue 2717
The Tories exams pledge to students still falls way short of what’s needed
The Tories’ exams pledge to students still falls way short of what’s needed (Pic: Creative Commons/David Hawgood)

The Tories are scrambling to try and contain an outpouring of anger over student exam results. Fury at the downgrading of hundreds of thousands of students’ grades has pushed education secretary Gavin Williamson into a humiliating retreat.

But his pledge to students still falls way short of what’s needed.

Williamson claimed students would be protected by a “triple lock”. This consists of either accepting their given grade, appealing to use their mock result instead or sitting an exam in the autumn.

Bristol A-Level student Izzy, who is waiting to receive her results tomorrow, said this will still leave many worse off.

“Not everyone will be encouraged to appeal,” she told Socialist Worker. “It will depend on what kind of school you go to. I think giving people a bad grade and then saying you can appeal isn’t really good enough.”

Downgrades of Scottish exam results shows class bias
Downgrades of Scottish exam results shows class bias
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The crisis over grades erupted after students’ results were calculated using a “moderating” system. This estimates results partly based on a college, school or sixth form’s previous performance. It basically gives higher grades to students in richer areas.

Williamson earlier this week called the system “fundamentally fair”.

Izzy said, “I think it’s just horrible for people to be judged on their postcode. It reinforces the sort of inequality that’s in the exam system anyway.”

The system saw nearly 125,000 grades for students studying for Highers in Scotland downgraded. The downgrades were scrapped following an outcry and protests by students.

Now hundreds of thousands of students across England and Wales are waiting to receive results – A-Level students on Thursday and GCSE students next week.

“People have worked so hard and there’s been so much stress and anxiety anyway due to the coronavirus crisis,” said Izzy. “We all prepared so much for the exams. They say results don’t define you. But our whole experience tells us that they do.

“We are judged so much on our grades.”


Even students who are confident enough to appeal may not win the right to use their mock grades. And in any case, many students do better in their final exams than in their mocks.

NEU union joint general secretary Mary Bousted said Williamson “has been forced into an embarrassing U-turn”. But she added that mock exams “do not take into account expected further progress”.

And she said Williamson’s move still leaves students in England at a disadvantage.

“Scottish students were given the option of having the best grade awarded either by the exam board, or by teacher predictions,” she said.

“English pupils do not have this option.”

End an unfair exam system
End an unfair exam system
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Anger is forcing ministers to retreat. But they haven’t gone nearly far enough – and they aren’t motivated by the best interests of students but by fears for the legitimacy of their system.

As Scottish education minister John Swinney put it, “The risk of undermining the value of qualifications is outweighed by a concern that young people, particularly from working class backgrounds, may lose faith in education.”

Meanwhile students feel their futures are being trashed – by downgraded results and by a lack of jobs due to the coronavirus crisis.

But the student demonstrations in Scotland show that it’s worth fighting back.

“The protests were really powerful,” said Izzy. “They took things into their own hands. I think there’s a similar level of discontent in England and Wales. We need to go out on the streets too.”

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