Royal Statistical Society hits back at Ofqual in exams algorithm row

The chief executive of the Royal Statistical Society has told Ofqual to “cease defending the indefensible” in the latest exchange in a row over the algorithm used to determine this year’s A-level and GCSE results.

The dispute began with comments made by the RSS in which the society said it had offered to help with the algorithm but objected to the proposed confidentiality agreement that experts would be required to sign and claimed it had received no official response to its concerns.

Ofqual’s chair, Roger Taylor, rebuffed the criticisms on Sunday. He said Ofqual had published a copy of the non-disclosure agreement (NDA) to dispute the “restrictions you have incorrectly alleged” and denied that the regulator had failed to respond to the issues raised by the RSS.

“Your letter and comments to the press have led to widespread misunderstanding and suspicion of Ofqual’s process,” Taylor said. “I would ask that you take all measures you can to correct this impression.”

Exam results row deepens as Ofqual hits back at statistics body

The RSS hit back on Monday, publishing a letter addressed to Taylor saying it stood by its comments, with chief executive Stian Westlake describing his complaints as “baseless”. He said one lawyer described the NDA, which would have prohibited experts from revealing any confidential information that Ofqual didn’t choose to publish for five years, as “very widely drafted”.

He also said the RSS “didn’t receive answers from Ofqual to the questions we raised about the NDA and about our involvement. (We did receive an email giving a generic reassurance that it was all fine … 51 days after we asked them. How reassuring would you find that?)”

“In short, Ofqual’s complaints are baseless,” Westlake concluded. “It’s time for Ofqual to cease defending the indefensible and focus on fixing the issue.”

The RSS letter, signed by president Prof Deborah Ashby and vice-president Sharon Witherspoon, states: “To conclude, we stand by the comments … If you feel there are any outstanding questions of fact in relation to our correspondence, we would be happy to make it public.”

Ofqual has come under scrutiny for its role in the results fiasco, which saw 40% of A-level assessments in England downgraded by the exam regulator’s algorithm and many students losing a place at their chosen university as a result.

It has since been revealed that Taylor threatened to quit unless the education secretary, Gavin Williamson, publicly backed Ofqual and admitted that the regulator was behind the U-turn that saw the algorithm scrapped and all A-level and GCSE results in England based on teacher-assessed grades instead.

Ofqual has been contacted for comment on the latest claims.

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