What does the UK government’s U-turn on exam results mean?

The government has been forced into a major policy U-turn, meaning that pupils throughout the UK will now have their grades awarded based on the recommendations of their teachers. The move comes after an outpouring of anger over the decision to use an algorithm to determine grades that led to almost 40% of predicted results being downgraded.

How will the new grades be calculated?

As part of the original process, teachers were asked to put together a set of predicted grades that were fed into the Ofqual system to produce the much-maligned algorithmic results sent out last week.

The Department for Education said they took into account the “full range of available evidence when they graded students – including non-exam assessment; the results of any homework assignments or mock exams; and any other existing records of student performance over the course of study”.

It was the downgrading of so many of those “centre-assessed grades” by a system that took more account of a school’s past results that caused the furore. Ministers have now said they will revert to using them.

When will I get them?

Officials have said exam boards will issue new grades to pupils in England as soon as possible, though they were unable to put a firm date on it. For AS and A-level students, Ofqual said students should speak to their school, college or exam board to find out their grade. The body said updated data will be sent to Ucas before the end of the week.

For GCSE students in England, exam boards will only be able to provide the final results on Thursday in some cases. Where they cannot, they will ask teachers to tell students the grades they predicted.

In Northern Ireland, the devolved education minister, Peter Weir, said the council for the curriculum, examinations and assessment is working to release the revised results as quickly as possible. The administration in Wales has not yet given timeframes.

In Scotland, schools are told by 21 August. They will then tell pupils and fresh exam certificates will be issued soon afterwards.

What if my first choice university has already rejected me?

Pupils will be asked to go back to the university they applied to and discuss the issue with them – and the DfE has said it expects the institutions to be flexible in their approaches.

A spokesman confirmed the recently announced plan to cap the number of students English universities can recruit is to be removed to allow extra capacity to deal with the changes. The government is also dropping a controversial policy limiting the number of English students who can go to institutions in other UK nations.

Universities UK, the representative body for universities, said the decision to revert will “cause challenges at this late stage in the admissions process – capacity, staffing, placements and facilities – particularly with the social distance measures in place”.

Its chief executive, Alistair Jarvis, said: “The government will need to step up and support universities through the challenges created by this late policy change.”

What happens if the grade I was given last week was better?

Ofqual announced on Monday that students in England would be able to keep whichever grade is higher, meaning some pupils will stick with their original one. That is the same in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Will the systems differ around the UK?

In a word, no. After the Scottish government’s own U-turn last week, Wales, Northern Ireland and England followed on Monday. Each has said centre-assessed grades will now be used for post-16 examinations cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

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