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Almost 40% of students have A-levels marked down

Despite record highs in certain result brackets, this year's A-levels have come under fire for unfair moderation

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Students across England, Wales and Northern Ireland have been awarded their results for A-levels and equivalent qualifications today, Thursday 13 August. However, concern has mounted since the morning as it has been revealed that, on average, 39.1% of students’ grades have been downgraded by the external moderation process by one grade, with a further 3.3% being moderated down by two grades.

Due to Covid-19, A-level examinations had to be suspended. The lack of official exams resulted in a system of predictions by each school which required external moderation by exam boards to confirm that those results were realistic. Moderation was based on numerous factors, such as the historic performance of the school predicting the grades and the previous exam results of each pupil.

Despite the Moderation procedure heavily downgrading a large proportion of the predicted grades, A-level results have reached something of a record high in England this year. The proportion of grades in the top bracket of A*-A was 27.9 per cent, a solid increase on the previous record high of 27 per cent recorded in 2007. Likewise, the number of results that achieved a solid passing grade, between A* - C was up from last year, with 78.4 per cent of entries receiving the grade, which is up from 75.8 per cent last year.

However, while results on average have climbed to record highs and increased from last year, it’s still an outstanding blow to a large number of pupils to have their results, as predicted by their own teachers, be lowered by external moderation. Concerns have been raised by a number of institutions that their number of downgraded results has been as high as 50 per cent, a dramatic increase on the 39.1 per cent average for the entire country and these concerns are not a new phenomenon.

Following the release of results from the Scottish Higher qualification, the Scottish government were pressured, in part by protesting students, into a U-Turn on their moderation procedure when around 27 per cent of pupils were downgraded using a system of moderation very similar to the rest of the UK. The controversy from both countries comes from the use of a school’s previous results in calculating what results should be expected from students currently attending each school.

The President of the NUS (National Union of Students), Larissa Kennedy, has stated that the U-Turn actioned by the scottish government to rely on predicted grades was the “Least worse option” as societal factors beyond any student’s control would affect their grades if institutions were judged based on their past performances. The core concern of the NUS being that students from disadvantaged backgrounds attending schools in low-income areas would be hit with firmer Moderation than those from more affluent areas and backgrounds, a trend that was deemed unfair by the Scottish government.

While Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, has described the current system as “fundamentally a fair one”, according to Guardian journalist Niamh McIntyre, 48.6 per cent of students at independent or private schools received a grade A or A* while just 21.8 per cent of students from state or comprehensive institutions achieved similar, a disparity of more than double. This disparity has led to Labour’s Kier Starmer speaking out on the controversy stating “something has obviously gone horribly wrong with this year’s exam results.” He went on to suggest that the Westminster government should not rule out a U-Turn on A-level moderation in line with what Scotland has done earlier this month.

With an estimated 25 000 university and higher education places being made available through clearing, 4 500 of them coming from Russell Group universities, it is as yet unclear how much the moderation of results will affect student’s further educational outcomes. However, appeals against individual students' results are available.

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