By Grahame Anderson

Two in five or 39.1 per cent of all pupils have had their A Level grades downgraded as results emerge from a controversial day in the education sector. What’s more, the figures also confirm students from disadvantaged backgrounds have been disproportionately affected by downgrades, while students from independent schools have seen top grades disproportionately rise.

Remember – school closures due to the pandemic meant results have been based on predicted grades from teachers, standardised by the exams board.

With GCSE results not due until next week it’s still too early to accurately analyse a breakdown of all the figures, though it’s highly likely the same old story will be told when it comes to those pupils from a BAME background.

Old problem

For years, concerns have been aired about a system disproportionately affecting black, Asian, or minority ethnic students. The Sutton report released in 2017 cited “high-attaining disadvantaged students are more likely to have their grades under-predicted than their richer counterparts”.

Experienced teacher Pran Patel, produced a number of reports on this issue. He highlighted a study from 2006, which found predicted grades for BAME pupils were always lower than for white students.

He said: “These biases can be based on the different viewpoints we have of our students, which may be based on their behaviour, their race or gender, their socioeconomic group, or whether they are EAL (English as an additional language) students.”

A recent London Assembly Education Panel investigation revealed unconscious bias remains a significant issue for BAME young Londoners in the education system.

Earlier this year research undertaken by the Equality Act Review suggested predicted grades “does not account for learning style, mitigating circumstances or Bame bias”.

When Micheal Gove was Education Secretary he famously said: “Children from ethnic minority groups are more likely to be marked down by their teachers in tests and exams.”

Concerns Of Bradford South MP

Judith Cummins, Labour MP for Bradford South, said: “Every A-level and BTEC student receiving their results today deserves to feel extremely proud of what they’ve achieved in very difficult circumstances.

“However, I know many students will feel they could have done better if they’d been able to sit their exams as planned.

“I am particularly concerned about the effect of this system on disadvantaged young people who appear to have been disproportionately affected.

“It cannot be right that the system has downgraded students in deprived areas whilst simultaneously favouring students at private schools.

“I have written to headteachers in Bradford South to ask them for any specific cases I can take up on their behalf and ensure students get the results they deserve.”

Ofqual Defence

A spokesperson for Ofqual told us: “We have extensively tested the model to ensure it gives students the fairest, most accurate results possible and, so far as possible, that students are not advantaged or disadvantaged on the basis of their socio-economic background.”

They admitted pupils from lower socio-economic backgrounds were more likely to have seen a bigger downward adjustment, but said there was “no evidence of systematic bias” in the adjustments.

Education Secretary

In the light of this, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “The majority of young people will have received a calculated grade today that enables them to progress to the destination they deserve, with the added safety net of being able to appeal on the basis of their mock results, as well as the chance of sitting autumn exams”.

He added it was “incredibly important” that the moderation process for results did not unfairly disadvantage deprived youngsters or black and ethnic minority communities.

Early Indications

Taken as a whole, according to Department for Education statistics for both A and AS results, 98.3 per cent received grades A* to E at A level, compared to 97.6 per cent in 2019. They add, There has been an increase in As and A*s awarded at A level, up from 25.5 per cent last year to 27.9 per cent.

There were 713,000 A-level entries in England – figures suggest around 280,000 grades were adjusted down.

A total of 35.6 per cent of results were one grade lower than proposed by schools – 3.3 per cent were two grades lower, with and 0.2 per cent being three grades lower. In 58.7 per cent of of cases there was no change to the grade predicted, while 2.2 per cent were increased by one grade, 0.05 per cent by two grades, and 0.01 per cent by three grades.

According to information from the exams regulator, the number of pupils achieving grade C or above was downgraded from teacher estimations by a little more than 10 per cent for children from the most disadvantaged background, compared to a little more than eight per cent for their most affluent peers.

A Total of 75 per cent of pupils did not achieve their predicted grade.

The New System

Both Schools and colleges were asked to predict the grades pupils would have achieved in each subject if they had sat the exams. The results delivered to exam boards with the order of who they think will do best.

The boards gathered all the information together, taking into account data for previous years, to make adjustments. The overall goal was to ensure final results were fair and consistent, falling in line with results from previous years.

The Department for Education has introduced a triple lock system meaning results will be the highest out of the grade they received from the exam board on results day in August, a mock exam and an optional written exam in the autumn.

Pupils whose grades are lower than their mock exams can appeal through their school, with the terms for approving appeals decided by Ofqual.

Labour Anger

Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary Kate Green said: Across the country, thousands of young people are opening their exam results full of hope, only to see their opportunities and their futures dashed.

This is a huge injustice. Pupils, parents and teachers are rightly angry and upset.

The Government has had five months to sort this out. Action is needed in days, not weeks. Students should be guaranteed the right to individual appeals and the fee for appeals should be waived. Students must be treated fairly and nothing should be ruled out, even if Ministers have to follow the U-turn that was forced on the Scottish Government.”

University Hopes

For those hoping to go to university, the admissions service UCAS has said universities would be “super flexible”, even for those who have missed grades.