UK scraps exam grading system that enraged students, parents

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Students outside the Department for Education building in London, react to news of the policy U-turn on the system for awarding A-level and GCSE grades, Monday Aug. 7, 2020. Exam-grading policy was set because no exams were possible because of the coronavirus. The British government has scrapped an exam-grading policy that was set to deprive thousands of 18-year-olds, especially the more disadvantaged, of their university places. (Victoria Jones/PA via AP)

LONDON – In a U-turn after days of criticism, the British government on Monday scrapped an exam-grading policy that was set to deprive thousands of graduating high school students — especially more disadvantaged ones — of places at universities.

Roger Taylor, chairman of U.K. exam regulator Ofqual, said the use of an algorithm to predict the results of exams that were canceled by the coronavirus pandemic had caused “real anguish and damaged public confidence.”

“It has not been an acceptable experience for young people,” he said. "I would like to say sorry."

Universities in the U.K. offer final-year high school students places based on grades predicted by their teachers. Admission is contingent on the results of final exams, known as A Levels.

This year, with schools largely shut since March and no exams, education authorities in England ran the predicted grades through an algorithm, intended to standardize results, that compared them with schools’ past performance. That meant high-achieving students at under-performing schools, many in deprived areas, saw their marks downgraded, while students at above-average schools kept their predicted grades.

Hundreds of students have held protests, calling the results an injustice, and lawmakers were inundated with complaints from angry parents.

Kay Mountfield, head teacher at a school in Marlow, west of London, said 85% of her students had received lower than predicted grades.

“Seventy of my students have not had their first choice of university,” she said. “Normally that would be about five, or 10 maybe, students.”