UK government flip-flop over school exam scores in England after outcry

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LONDON (Reuters) – The UK government has bowed to public pressure on its school exam scoring system, dropping an algorithm that downgraded students’ scores in England after their tests were canceled due to COVID-19.

Students react outside the Department of Education when they hear news of the government’s turnaround on exam scores, amid the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in London, Great -Brittany, August 17, 2020. REUTERS / John Sibley

The government had faced days of criticism after the mathematical model used to assess teacher grade predictions lowered grades for nearly 40% of students taking their main leaving exams.

Students will now be given the grade their teachers predicted them based on their past performance, the government of Tory Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday.

“I am sorry for the distress this has caused to young people and their parents, but I hope this announcement now provides the certainty and reassurance they deserve,” said Education Secretary Gavin Williamson .

He promised last week that there would be no U-turn.

An opinion poll by YouGov showed that 75% of those polled believed the government had mismanaged the situation and 40% believed Williamson should resign. Some students protested against the initial results.

When asked if he would resign, Williamson said: “I think what these young people wanted to see was action taken.”

The chaotic management of grades has been felt all the way to Egypt and Pakistan, as some schools rely on UK assessments to achieve internationally recognized qualifications.

The algorithm will also be dropped for the results of separate exams taken mainly by 15 and 16 year old students.

The dispute damaged Johnson’s central message to voters – that he wanted to break down barriers to success and help those from poorer backgrounds and regions realize their potential.

This is yet another embarrassment for a government that has changed course several times – including on lunch vouchers for schoolchildren after a campaign led by football star Marcus Rashford.

Some students have missed out on college places after being downgraded several levels by the regulator’s initial model.

“These are issues that have faced the government for months and the government has been slow and incompetent,” opposition Labor leader Keir Starmer said.

Williamson has said he is lifting the cap on the number of students universities can accept, but it’s unclear how universities will handle the unprecedented revision of grades.

The Russell group of leading UK universities has said it urgently needs clarification on further government support.

The UK central government’s decision, which applies to England, mirrors those taken by devolved administrations in Wales and Northern Ireland on Monday, and in Scotland last week.

Analysis of the algorithm showed that it had resulted in “manifest injustice” by favoring students in private fee-paying schools, said Paul Johnson, director of the think tank at the Institute for Fiscal Studies, writing for the Times.

Reporting by William James; Editing by William Schomberg and Mark Heinrich

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