Algorithm debacle saw eightfold increase in GCSE grades changed on appeal

Written by Eleanor Langford on 21 December 2020 in News
News

Ofqual data shows almost 28,000 challenges were made

Credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire/PA Images

The number of GCSE grades changed following an appeal rose eightfold this year after the government faced criticism for its handling of the disruption to exams by coronavirus.

According to Ofqual, a total of 27,825 GCSE grades were challenged this summer, representing a 1175% increase on the 2,182 challenged the previous year.

Fresh analysis of the exam regulator’s data also revealed that there was a 620% increase in A Level grades changed, from 197 to 1,420 at the end of the 2019/20 academic year.

Summer exams were cancelled this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, with the majority students’ results calculated via an controversial algorithm drawn up by Ofqual, which factored in both teacher assessments and past grades of the school.

The system faced widespread condemnation in August after thousands of students received GCSE and A-Level results that were significantly lower than than predicted. It was claimed grades were unfairly downgraded in a bid to avoid grade inflation.


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Ministers also faced criticism after Ofqual removed its criteria for mock exam results to be considered as the basis of an appeal mere hours after it was published.

Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, was ultimately forced to ditch the algorithm following the outcry, with all A-level and GCSE results in England able to be based on teacher-assessed grades.

Boris Johnson later blamed the crisis on a “mutant algorithm”, a comment which attracted anger from major teaching unions. 

Kevin Courtney, joint leader of the NEU, said in September that parents and teachers would be "horrified to see the leader of this country treat his own exams fiasco like some minor passing fad".

"It is certain to put a long-lasting dent in the government's reputation on education."

 

About the author

Eleanor Langford is a reporter for PublicTechnology sister publication PoliticsHome, where this story first appeared. She tweets as @eleanormia.

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