Let’s end the lottery of predicted grades

Try explaining the British university admissions system to a foreigner. They look at you as if you’re mad. ‘What you do is, you apply to university in January on the basis of what your teacher thinks you will get in a series of cliff-edge exams you sit in May/June called A-levels. Only once you get your results in mid-August – which is to say, about a month before you’re due to start – is your place at university confirmed. But that’s only if you’ve actually achieved your predicted grades. If you haven’t, you go into this thing called ‘clearing’ where you scrabble around trying to pick up places that might

Why aren’t exams going ahead?

When Boris Johnson talked about trusting teachers, I suspected that the government must be desperate. Trust is not a word I have head much in my 25-year teaching career. I am no longer trusted to go into a GCSE exam hall to look at the paper that my class is sitting in case I somehow manage to undermine the integrity of the exam. But that was 2019. This morning Gavin Williamson confirmed that this year, it will come down to me and my colleagues in school. There will be no exam papers, no external markers, and certainly no algorithms. Before the pandemic we weren’t even trusted to mark coursework for

Spare a thought for next year’s A-level students

Three years ago I was contacted by an official at the Department for Education to see if I was interested in becoming a non-executive director of Ofqual, the exams regulator. There have been times since when I’ve regretted turning down that offer, but this week was not one of them. Ofqual was given the unenviable task of awarding A-level and GCSE grades to students in England who, thanks to the lockdown, had not sat their exams; and it was inevitably criticised by those children and their parents who felt they should have done better, not to mention various enemies of the government who treated Ofqual as a proxy for Gavin

Ross Clark

University challenge: the next education crisis

On the insistence of university authorities, freshers’ week will be an online affair this year. But if this autumn is not much fun for students, it will be a lot less fun still for university staff whose admissions system has just been thrown into turmoil by the A-level results debacle. While some institutions now face overcrowding, others face financial ruin. When the Education Secretary Gavin Williamson announced on Monday that he was abandoning the algorithm devised by Ofqual to moderate A-level results and would allow candidates to keep the grades estimated by their teachers, students were relieved — many more will, after all, now be able to go to their

Ofqual boss’s algorithm malfunction

Gavin Williamson has taken a lot of stick for the A-level exams debacle, but Mr Steerpike thinks we should perhaps look to Roger Taylor, the chair of Ofqual, who also happens to be head of the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation. Not many people think that using an algorithm to decide exam results was the best option, but it becomes even more questionable when you realise that Taylor led a study last year, warning of algorithms propensity to ‘make decisions which reinforce pre-existing social inequalities’. The study states: ‘concerns are growing that without proper oversight, algorithms risk entrenching and potentially worsening bias.’ Unfortunately, concerns hadn’t grown enough to prevent