How Entire Classes Of A-Level Pupils Had Their Results Downgraded

Léonie Chao-Fong
·6-min read

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One hundred thousand pupils across England awoke on Thursday to find their A-level results had been downgraded from the marks their teachers awarded them, with entire classes at some schools being marked down by at least one grade.

Following the cancellation of exams due to the coronavirus pandemic, this year’s A-level results were determined based on an algorithm that relies on grades submitted by teachers based on what they believed each student would have received if they had sat the exams – as well as the school’s past exam performance.

While the proportion of A-level entries that were awarded an A grade or higher has risen to all-time high, the downgrading of results has sparked anger, shock and dejection among pupils in the UK who have already suffered under extenuating circumstances with schools closed since March.

Nearly four in every 10 (39.1%) grades awarded on Thursday were lower than teachers’ predictions: 35.6% were adjusted down by one grade, while 3.3% were brought down by two and 0.2% by three grades.

In total, an estimated 280,000 A-level entries were affected by the process.

HuffPost UK has been made aware of at least one school in Yorkshire where an entire class of 21 pupils all saw their results lowered. Staff there were not allowed to speak to us.

But students from elsewhere in the country have opened up about their disappointment and feelings of betrayal.

Leah, from Hertfordshire, said every member of the philosophy A-level class at her secondary school sixth form had been downgraded by two grades.

“I’ve spoken to all my classmates,” she told HuffPost UK. “People who were predicted A*s got Bs. Everyone’s really upset.”

Today’s results came as a complete shock to her – she went from a predicted C to a U grade. “I’ve never got that grade before – I don’t even know where it came from.”

While her first choice university, Dundee, “is being nice” and said it will consider her predicted grades of BCC instead of her given grades of UDC, she admitted she felt “so stressed”.

“I’ve been crying almost non-stop since 8am,” she said.

Oli, who was in Leah’s philosophy class, was predicted an A* and instead received a B. “I was very confident that I was going to nail it,” he told HuffPost UK. “The fact that this grade has nothing to do with my actual skills like an exam makes me really angry.”

He said he “didn’t deserve” to be marked based on “something so completely impersonal” as an algorithm.

“I appreciate that finding a way to appropriately mark everyone this year was near impossible, but the way they’ve done it is just awful,” he continued.

“All of my class should lose out because their standardisation has decided that people from our school perform poorer at this subject, or because of our area, or an unrelated GCSE grade – and so our achievements don’t get recognised.

“We’ve had no say, no control and simply had this grade dictated to us, which isn’t reflective of us or what we deserve.

“It was less bad for me since I’m not applying to university this year, but several of my classmates lost their uni places because we all lost a grade or two.”

Hamish, 18, said his entire German A-level class will be appealing their results after each of them received a grade lower than the one their teacher had submitted for them. His college in Horsham, West Sussex, had previously attained 100% A* and A results in the subject.

He described it as “one of the most demoralising experiences in my life thus far”.

“My teacher has closely monitored our progress over the two-year course,” he told HuffPost UK. “She predicted us all what she was confident that we would achieve in the final exam.”

He said his whole class felt “hard done by”. “We were all confident we’d get the grades we deserved and were confident in our teacher’s expertise. It’s incredibly frustrating.

“Our teacher was upset for us as we are a close-knit class. I can imagine that she’s very angry considering her entire class has moved down a grade which seems to me to be an insult to her judgement.

“Some friends of mine have had their place at university rejected – from one bad grade from the government.”

Hamish plans to write an open letter to education secretary Gavin Williamson asking for a review of the “clearly flawed” exam results. “I’m feeling betrayed by our government,” he said.

“I feel as though the advice of my teachers has been completely ignored and the consequences of that for myself and many other students are unbelievable. I feel as if the state has deemed 40% of us unworthy of success in order to meet a completely fictitious status quo.”

By downgrading a teacher’s predictions for their own students, the government was effectively “punishing” them for “completely valid” grades.

On Tuesday the government announced some pupils in England would be allowed to use results in mock A-level exams as the basis for an appeal against the grades they were given, so long as the mocks were held under exam conditions and could be “validated” by the schools.

But Jasmin, from Cumbria, said she believed basing results on what was achieved in a mock exam was not fair. “Our last official mock was in November and I struggled. I don’t think using mocks results from that time was a good representation of my work.”

She said only one student out of her whole sociology class had received their predicted grade. Her teacher has also asked everyone to appeal their results.

“I spoke to my teacher and she said that the majority of the class has been massively downgraded,” she told HuffPost UK. “My friend got A*s and an A in all of his mocks, but got given a B.”

Jasmin herself was predicted a B which was downgraded to a C, and believes her entire class was “bumped down” because of the “biased” standardisation modelling.

″[The algorithm] is based on the past three years, but we only had one year of students to go off of.

“As a result of the previous year not doing well, we’ve also not done as well as we could have. It’s angered a lot of my peers.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said “something has obviously gone horribly wrong” and that thousands of pupils have had their future prospects “dashed”.

Geoff Barton, head of the Association of School and College Leaders, said he had received “heartbreaking feedback” from teachers about “grades being pulled down in a way that they feel to be utterly unfair and unfathomable”.


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This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.