England scrambles to avoid criticism over coronavirus-hit exam grades

London: England sought to defuse a looming row over the awarding of school qualifications during the pandemic by allowing students to use results of their earlier practice tests – a last-minute change designed to avoid a repeat of mistakes made in Scotland.

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The coronavirus pandemic closed schools across Europe and meant that in some countries almost no examinations took place, leaving educators with a dilemma over how to award grades that affect students’ job prospects and university places.

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Scotland’s devolved government was forced to reverse downgraded results on Tuesday after a moderation process led to 75,000 young people having their grades revised down, sparking dismay and protests.

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Pupils in England, Wales and Northern Ireland will receive on Thursday the results of their A-levels – exams taken generally by 18-year-olds.

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The results in England were due to be based on the predictions of a student’s school and then moderated by exam boards.

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But education minister Gavin Williamson said on Wednesday students would now have the “safety net” option of choosing between using their calculated grade, going with the result of ‘mock’ practice tests taken earlier this year, or sitting a new exam in the autumn.

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“We are creating a triple-lock process to ensure confidence and fairness in the system,” Williamson said in a statement.

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Improvise

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While students in Germany were able to sit their exams this year, other countries across Europe have had to improvise.

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France cancelled its school-leaving ‘baccalaureat’ exam but published methodology for awarding grades months in advance of results day. Students in Italy swapped written exams for hour-long oral tests, with past performance also taken into account.

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The British approach was greeted with dismay by teaching unions, who said it was rushed and did not take into account that mock exams were not standardised across schools.

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“The idea of introducing at the 11h hour a system in which mock exam results trump calculated grades beggars belief,” said Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders.

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“This immediately creates the potential for massive inconsistency.”

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