Student tells schools minister: ‘You’ve ruined my life’

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Disappointed students protested in Westminster on Friday

A student, rejected by her chosen university after her A-level results were downgraded, has told schools minister Nick Gibb he “ruined my life”.

Speaking on BBC’s Any Questions, Nina, from Peterborough, said her marks were three grades lower than predicted.

She told Mr Gibb she was distraught after failing to meet her offer from the Royal Veterinary College.

The government says it will cover the cost of appeals after 280,000 grades in England were downgraded.

Ministers are also expected to set up a taskforce, led by Mr Gibb, to oversee the appeals process.

After this summer’s exams were cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, grades were awarded using a controversial modelling system, with the key factors being the ranking order of pupils and the previous exam results of schools and colleges.

In England, 36% of entries had grades lower than their teachers predicted and 3% were down two grades, prompting anger among schools, colleges and students.

Confronted by Nina Bunting Mitcham on Friday’s Any Questions, Mr Gibb promised the appeals process would be “robust”.

Nina, a pupil at New College, Stamford, was predicted to achieve ABB, and scored As and Bs in her mock exams – but was handed three D grades.

“It’s got to be a mistake, I have never been a D-grade student.

“I feel my life has been completely ruined, I can’t get into any universities with such grades or progress further in my life,” she told Mr Gibb.

Mr Gibb said it was “rare” for students to be downgraded three grades from their predicted grades.

“This should not have happened to you. We don’t want you to have to go through this,” he responded. “It won’t ruin your life, it will be sorted, I can assure you.”

He added: “There will be these mistakes… we do know there are imperfections somewhere in the system as a result of this model. There are no models that can improve on that, this is the problem.”

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There has been widespread concern about the fairness of the ‘calculated’ results

Samantha Smith, a grammar school student from Telford, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that her results had been downgraded from As and A* grades to a B, E and U.

“I know I didn’t sit the exam but I didn’t think I’d be treated as if I didn’t turn up for the exam,” she said.

“I’ve now got no university places, because of the algorithm and the system of being treated as if your postcode matters more than your potential.”

Mr Gibb has said challenged grades will be addressed “swiftly”, by September 7 at the latest.

He also advised that many universities had stated they would hold places open to start in January, giving students the option to sit exams this autumn.

Oxford’s Worcester College said it would honour all offers it made to UK students, irrespective of their A-level results.

Admissions tutor Prof Laura Ashe said it was “the morally right thing to do”.

Because students had not taken any exams, “we took the view there wasn’t going to be any new information that could justify rejecting someone to whom we’d made an offer”, she said.

She said the algorithm used to adjust grades “literally copied the inequalities that are currently existing in our education system”, with a quarter of the college’s state school applicants being downgraded, but only 10% of private school candidates.

Ofqual adjusted the results to make the spread of grades look right at a national level, she said, but “they can’t possibly tell us that they’ve given the right grades to the right people”.

Meanwhile, Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham said he was “fully prepared to take legal action”, arguing that Ofqual’s grading system was “straightforwardly discriminatory” against working class and ethnic minority students who are more likely to attend large, urban sixth form colleges.

“It discriminates against young people on the basis of the institution that they went to, rather than their ability.”

“I cannot stand by and see thousands of lives ruined across Greater Manchester,” he told BBC Breakfast, calling the process “fundamentally unfair”.

He accused the government of being “out of touch” and called the grading system “the single biggest act of levelling down that this country has ever seen”.

‘Cold comfort’

Earlier, Labour called on ministers to act immediately to sort out the “exams fiasco” in England and to stop thousands of A-level students being “betrayed”.

The Liberal Democrats welcomed the announcement over appeals costs, but called on Mr Williamson to resign.

The party’s education spokeswoman, Layla Moran, said: “For the young people who have worked so hard to not get the results they deserve, through no fault of their own, this announcement alone will be cold comfort.”

She added: “Ultimately, after Gavin Williamson’s botched handling of the process thus far, pupils will have no confidence in him to fix the broken glass. Before he causes any more hurt, he must go.”

Since the results came out in England on Thursday, there have been calls to move away from the chosen system and to use teachers’ predictions. If follows a government U-turn in Scotland which saw downgraded results withdrawn and replaced by the original teacher estimates.

But England’s exam watchdog, Ofqual, has warned that using teachers’ predictions would have artificially inflated results – and would have seen about 38% of entries getting A*s and As.

Mr Williamson has vowed there will be “no U-turn”, and is backed by Prime Minister Boris Johnson who defended what he said were a “robust set” of grades.

The Department of Education said it had introduced a “triple lock system”, meaning those pupils “unhappy with their calculated grades can appeal on the basis of a valid mock result” or sit an exam in the autumn.

The government has also said it will reimburse the cost of an appeal – which can reach £150 – to ensure that head teachers are not deterred from taking on harder to prove cases. But one head teacher told the BBC it was a “token gesture”, adding that appeals were already free if they are successful.

Robert Halfon, the Conservative chairman of the Commons Education Committee, has also expressed concern over the model chosen by Ofqual to moderate results.

He called on the regulator to publish details of the algorithm it used to make its calculations.

“If the model has penalised disadvantaged groups, this is very serious, and if it has disadvantaged colleges, that has to be looked at. Ofqual will have to adjust the grades.”

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