Column: Right decision to ditch exams algorithm

Andrew Jones, Harrogate and Knaresborough MP think it was the right decision to ditch exams algorithm.

Friday, 21st August 2020, 3:15 pm
Updated Friday, 21st August 2020, 3:18 pm
"Right decision to ditch exams algorithm"

As things return to some semblance of normality grindingly slowly we can begin to take stock of the huge longer term impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

That impact is across every sphere of our lives from the deeply personal effects of lockdown on mental health and family relationships to the turmoil in the national and global economy.

This month students across the United Kingdom will receive their GCSE and A-level results. The process has been significantly impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. Exams had to be cancelled and teachers have had to estimate grades from coursework.

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This process is important because the exam results will determine the future directions students take – either into the world of work directly or via a further qualification like a degree or a BTEC. The results this month will go some way to deciding the future shape of our country’s workforce.

The five days of confusion following the release of the A-level results has caused distress and uncertainty for students. While OFQUAL – the exams regulator – is responsible for the way the results were calculated, Government should have stepped in more effectively at an earlier stage. That is not to say that the Education Secretary didn’t try.

Following the chaos in Scotland where teacher-assessed grades were moderated by a formula – known as the algorithm – based on the past performance of the school as a whole, the UK Government instituted a so-called triple lock on English grades. This means that a student was to be awarded the highest out of the algorithm estimated grade, a mock exam grade and an optional written exam in the autumn.

To my mind applying a formula to teacher-assessed grades based on the previous performance of the school and the area was only going to entrench differences between postcodes. It was always going to build unfairness into the system and take out the individuality brought to their work by pupils.

If you have a bad system, simply tinkering with it or giving students other options won’t make the system good. That is why I was pleased by OFQUAL’s announcement that it was ditching the algorithm and using the unadulterated teacher-assessed grades.

Even with qualifications, life is likely to be tougher in the jobs market. Employment is decreasing and unemployment increasing. After enjoying historically low levels of unemployment here in Harrogate and Knaresborough, we now see that just over four per cent of working age people are out of work. The national figure is around six per cent. This is likely to rise further.

Businesses are finding trading difficult, whether that is big national airline or local cafes and restaurants. The impacts of social distancing, in a world where business is used to close-quarters human interaction, is huge.

So as I congratulate pupils who are getting their GCSEs and A-levels this months and thank their teachers and support staff for all they have done in the most trying circumstances, I am aware of the challenges that lie ahead for them. For their sake, it is important that our recovery is speedy, but also that it is sustainable. Further uncertainty with large swathes of the economy dipping in and out of lockdown will harm the chances of those young people who need our economy to provide the jobs and income for them and their families in the future.

That is another reason why I again urge people to follow the advice to wash your hands, cover your face and give people space. It isn’t just advice to keep us safe now – it is advice to help secure jobs and prosperity for today’s young people.