The sheer scale of Government incompetence on A-level and GCSE results has been breathtaking. While its eventual U-turn was welcome, following sustained pressure from the Labour Party and from students, what is utterly unforgivable is that they put young people and their families through all this chaos and confusion in the first place.
Exam results should always be determined by an individual’s ability and not by their postcode or by which school they attend. Yet this Government has created a system of awarding results which is entrenching and exacerbating disadvantage – the opposite of “levelling up” that the Prime Minister promised.
Students in Garston and Halewood were failed by Government incompetence and the system must be changed. The fact that the Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson, has neither resigned nor been sacked as a result of decisions made by him is particularly galling. The fact that he is now blaming anyone but himself is so typical of this inept and disgraceful Government. As Keir Starmer has noted, the incident raises further questions about the ability of the Government to ensure Britain’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.
As it stands, important questions remain to be answered. I support the actions taken by Shadow Education Secretary Kate Green, who has submitted 15 questions to the Secretary of State:
- Will the cap be lifted only to enable those students holding existing offers to take their place at their chosen university this year or is it a wholesale lifting of the cap?
- What capacity is there in the system to accommodate higher numbers of students enrolling on courses?
- What happens to a student who has accepted an offer – whether that is through clearing or their insurance option – because their moderated grade was lower than CAG? Are they able to switch institutions? And what happens to any potential accommodation contracts they may have signed should they choose to switch?
- Lifting the cap on student numbers will potentially have significant financial implications for some institutions – will your Department be offering them additional support? Can you confirm that no university will be allowed to fail financially as a result of these changes?
- What steps have you taken to ensure that universities are prioritising widening participation and that students from disadvantaged backgrounds are not missing out as a result of the events of the past few weeks?
- Why are BTEC students excluded from today’s change in policy when many of them will have applied to university and are in the same position as their A-Level counterparts? This is on top of the delays that many have faced in receiving their results. What urgent support are you offering to these students?
- Can you also confirm when students and universities will see the grades that they have been awarded?
- Many students are still in limbo – what support will be offered to young people who have to defer their place for a year? Is it the government’s policy still to have an autumn exam series – is this an option for young people who still want to improve their grades? What is the Government doing to address the problem of home-schooled pupils not receiving GCSEs?
- Will you confirm that there will be an appeals process for students not happy with their centre assessed grade, and will these appeals still be free of charge as announced last week?
My hope is that the Government will act quickly to clarify these and other points, so that our young people can get on with planning their studies and their futures.