Millennium Post

UK govt scrambles as exam fiasco enrages students, parents

London: The British government scrambled Monday to staunch the damage from an exam-grading policy that has left thousands of 18-year-olds without university places and sparked claims of discrimination against disadvantaged students.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson was expected to make an announcement on the system for replacing exams that were cancelled because of the Coronavirus pandemic.

Universities in the UK offer final-year high school students places based on grades predicted by their teachers. Admission is contingent on the results of final exams, known as A Levels.

This year, with schools largely shut since March and no exams, education authorities in England ran the predicted grades through an algorithm, intended to standardize results, that compared them with schools' past performance.

That meant high-achieving students at under-performing schools, many in deprived areas, saw their marks downgraded, while students at above-average schools kept their predicted grades.

Hundreds of students have held protests, calling the results an injustice, and lawmakers have been inundated with complaints from angry parents.

Kay Mountfield, head teacher at a school in Marlow, west of London, said 85 per cent of her students had received lower than predicted grades.

Seventy of my students have not had their first choice of university, she said. Normally that would be about five, or 10 maybe, students. The education secretary insisted Saturday that there would be no U-turn, though he said students who had been downgraded could appeal or retake the exams.

But criticism of the policy spread quickly, even within the ranks of the governing Conservative Party.

This group of young people have lost out on so much already; we must ensure that bright, capable students can progress on their next step, said Paymaster General Penny Mordaunt.

Defense Minister Johnny Mercer said there were clear injustices in the system.

In Scotland, authorities quickly reversed course after a similar fiasco last week, saying students would get their predicted grades. That increased pressure on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to do the same for England.

Johnson, who is on vacation, chaired a call on the crisis Monday with Williamson and senior officials. We recognise this has been an incredibly difficult year for students, said the prime minister's spokesman, Jamie Davies. We continue to work to come up with the fairest system possible.

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