View from the House: Of course they knew that this was going to be a disaster

PUBLISHED: 08:30 22 August 2020

Brent North MP, Barry Gardiner, talked to a lot of upset students and teachers prior to the A-level result U-turn.

Brent North MP, Barry Gardiner, talked to a lot of upset students and teachers prior to the A-level result U-turn.

©Louise Haywood-Schiefer/

Pity the poor columnist who commits anything to print this week. Government policy has had more changes than Ru Paul in a three hour TV spectacular!

Of course they knew it was going to be a disaster. They didn’t even wait for the full scale of the A-level grades fiasco hit on Thursday. They actually announced a so-called “triple lock safeguard” the day before – only it wasn’t. It said you can either accept the fact that 40 per cent of you have not received the grades your teachers thought you were worth, or you can use your mock exam results, or you can do a resit in October.

Let’s leave aside the question of how you resit an exam you have never taken. Let’s leave aside the fact that an October resit means you cannot get into university this year and would have to take a gap year. But seriously – how many student think they have done better in mock exams taken back in December when they hadn’t even completed the entire syllabus than they were going to do in the real thing with six months’ extra tuition under their belt?

And when the tsunami of anger and frustration hit Tory ministers on Thursday and Friday it turned out that they hadn’t even contacted Ofqual about what constituted an acceptable mock exam.

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On Saturday afternoon Ofqual announced that they would only accept mock grades if they were the same or lower than the final centre assessment grades submitted by the school in June. Not much of a safeguard in that case you might think. But that was Saturday afternoon. By 11pm they had dumped that advice and said they would get backed to students later in the week. Sorry – that last sentence should probably read: “They had dumped students into the middle of next week.” Because that’s what it felt like to the young people whose futures were hanging by a thread as they tried to work out whether they would be able to get into the universities they had applied to or whether they should now accept a place through clearing.

As I write (Monday morning) I have spent days speaking with teachers and heads, students and parents who contacted me distraught and furious at the total lack of understanding the government has shown and the seeming lack of concern about these young people’s future – let alone their mental health. One student told me: “Mr Gardiner, I can’t lie to you – I have just spent the last three days crying.”

What will happen next? I don’t know. But I can tell you what should happen. The government should apologise to these young people. It should recognise that they have already suffered enormous strain and disadvantage through the lockdown: the loss of their last months at school with their friends; no chance to validate all the hard work they have put in over the past two years. They should do what Scotland and Wales have already done and give these students the grades their teachers believe they deserved.

And by the time you read this – a perhaps they will have!

•“Pity the poor columnist”, indeed. After Mr Gardiner submitted his column the government U-turned to allow teacher-assessed grades, rather than those resulting from an algorithm. Furthermore, education secretary Gavin Williamson apologised to students. - Ed.

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