The U-turn and After …

One of the many things that Winston Churchill never said (referring to Americans) is that they “…will always do the right thing – after exhausting all the alternatives”. Yesterday the UK Government performed a U-turn on its approach to A-level results but only after extensive protests and after causing immense stress to a great many students. All of this could have been avoided had the Secretary of State for Education bothered to look at the results of the downgrading algorithm. This morning he said that he “wasn’t aware” of what the outcomes would be and tried to put the blame on OfQual. Well, it’s actually his job to be aware of these things and that statement shows he’s not doing his job.

While many students will be mighty relieved that their official A-level grades will go up, that won’t be the end of this fiasco. Many students will find that their places have been already been filled through last week’s clearing process. The Government has lifted the number cap on places in imposed earlier this year, but that won’t help many departments, especially those in the sciences, who have severe constraints on, e.g., laboratory capacity (more so with social distancing in place).

I feel very sorry for friends and former colleagues in UK universities having to deal with this shambles. The Government will be quite happy that it has managed to throw this particularly hot potato into the hands of admissions tutors across the land. Ministers will be hoping that whatever blame now accrues will be attributed to universities being “inflexible” when it is entirely down to incompetence elsewhere. As always it’s the front-line staff who will have to deal with it, as if their job was not stressful enough having to deal with Covid-19.

Meanwhile, here in Ireland, the Government’s plan for “standardisation” of this year’s Leaving Certificate results looks alarmingly similar to the failed approach tried – and subsequently abandoned – in the United Kingdom. Minister for Education Norma Foley has been making statements about the accuracy and reliability of her Department’s plans that sound eerily similar to those issued by officials across the Irish Sea. I hope that I’m wrong about this – and that there’s some frantic activity going on behind the scenes to change the approach ahead of the release of this year’s Leaving Certificate grades (due on September 7th) – but I have a feeling that we’re going to see yet another slow-motion car crash. It wouldn’t be the first time that, having observed something truly shambolic happening in the UK Education system, an Irish Government then proceeds to do exactly the same thing…

9 Responses to “The U-turn and After …”

  1. Anton Garrett Says:

    I would trust a teacher to produce relative rankings of pupils but not rankings by an external standard. My mistrust is not based on any belief of deliberate manipulation but simply of variations among teachers.

    • telescoper Says:

      Fair point – but that information was not included in the A-level algorithm. Teachers were not asked to perform a rank ordering, and only crude grades were input.

  2. When was the U-turn announced? When do/did students get their revised grades? First I heard of this, the focus had already shifted to admissions…

  3. Rob Ivison Says:

    A slow motion car crash, indeed, despite their having witnessed the same car crash unfold north of the border a week or two earlier, and having called for the resignation of the minister that oversaw that fiasco.

    Do you ever wonder if those that voted for these toerags remember having done so, and suffer suitable levels of regret?

    • telescoper Says:

      They usually just say “I know it’s bad but imagine how much worse it would be under Labour!”…:-/

  4. There has been a predictable U-turn, but the new grades have not yet been released to universities.

  5. Dave Carter Says:

    Its Ofqual’s fault apparently. Or somebody’s, but definitely not Gavin Williamson’s, oh no. Not the government’s, their hands are clean. Despite the fact that it was obvious to anybody with half a brain cell that the algorithm, especially the part of it which focuses of the previous exam history of a school was deeply flawed. It never ceases to amaze me that people, including the press and opposition, do not call them out more strongly for their serial incompetence and craven excuses.

  6. Dave Carter Says:

    Sarah Wollaston summed up Williamson perfectly: “in a crowded field, the most under-demoted of the inadequates in government”.

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