Williamson, Keegan, Ofqual and Algorithms - the Fiasco of A levels results day

Renew's David Britten discusses how the exams fiasco this year shows why we need political reform


Turn your mind back to March when we were in deep lockdown. I was talking to my son and he was concerned that he had his A levels coming up and did not know if he would be able to physically  sit his exams or if they would be on line or even what he would do next year and his plans for university were just a dream. An article in the Guardian on March 15th was even advising the Government that they should cancel the school year for those students taking GCSE’s and A levels, and they would restart their final year in September 2020. You can imagine his response to a 3 year A level course.

So the Government closed schools on the 18th March, and all exams were cancelled. In his statement the Prime Minister said “I understand their frustrations, we will make sure their progress isn’t impeded and that in time they will get the qualifications needed”. He was advised that he would get his grades based on teachers adjustments. Basically teachers would be asked to give each student a grade, and within that grade rank the students.Ofqual would check to make sure there was no overinflation by schools. Simple and straightforward, and my son was told by his teachers he would have his predicted grades. No mention of algorithms.

Roll on early August, he had been contacted by his university, and his halls have been confirmed. With results day on the 13th August, I felt a slight apprehension with this Government, but surely even this Government after Covid 19, Brexit and numerous other mistakes that have made would not mess up these exams results. I was wrong. Having been involved with Renew since we started, seen up close how this Government, and previous Tory Governments works, I was concerned. The sensible and experienced Conservative politicians like Damian Hinds and Justine Greening (previous education secretaries) had been forced not to stand for reelection as they refused to back Boris Johnson and his disastrous ‘Get Brexit Done’. They had been replaced by Williamson and  Gillian Keegan (No 2 at Department of Education) - Gillian Keegan was on holiday in the French Alps tweeting about her holiday on the day of publication of the A level results, you could not make this up.

Having some experience in the ‘algorithm’ world after working in tech start ups for the last 10 years, we would test a new algorithm to see the results and if we could create anomalies. It seemed Williamson aka Cummings didn't even do that, as they would have immediately seen the results and broken the algorithm- an exceptional student in a year group whose expected grades would outperform previous years results, and from an inner metropolitan borough with a high class size would, with the algorithm,have their grades downgraded. The student who attends a high performing school, with small class sizes would  have their grades maintained if not upgraded.With competition so intense to be accepted into the top universities, a downgrade from A to B would mean instant rejection.

To allow the results day to go ahead was a dereliction of duty by Williamson, when he knew of the disaster looming. 500,000 students would receive A level results, and saying each child has 1.5 parents who are involved in their education, you have 1,250,000 people of voting age who would be furious by this mismanagement of the A level results. It just shows the arrogance of a party run by Cummings with a majority of 80 seats- they don’t care about public opinion. Fortunately after pressure from public opinion there was another U turn and the predicted grades, or the algorithm grade- whichever was greater- was awarded. It was a disgrace to see the Liberal Democrats silent on this issue.

But we can do something about this.  We need to reform the Political system and you can only do that from within. If you are a student contact Alex Gunter [email protected] who is heading our drive to sign up students and young people so Renew can become politically active on campuses. If you are a parent and you are outraged by how your children have been treated contact us [email protected] and help us ensure this never happens again.  I was so outraged by the fiasco, I have started a petition for the government to release the working of the algorithm- my petition passed the first hurdle but is now waiting review which due to Covid could take 14 days before I can launch a full petition- again a Cummings ploy to take the steam out of the situation and stop democracy working.

If you follow the political pundits, it appears Williamson offered his resignation but Johnson/Cummings refused to accept it. How can Williamson leave and not Cummings after the Barnard Castle arrogance. Williamson will be moved sidewards or downwards in the Autumn reshuffle- betting companies are refusing to take bets on the Williamson demotion. But it does appear that some people have a conscience as Sally Collier, chief regulator of Ofqual, has fallen on her sword and resigned.

So please do something, exercise your responsibility and make a stand against how the 2020 Students were treated. Sign up for the newsletter, join as a member or if you are a student contact Alex. And if you can sign my petition I would be most grateful!