Revealed: How (some) Cambridgeshire MPs reacted during exam grades ‘fiasco’ - others choose not to comment at all

PUBLISHED: 14:13 18 August 2020 | UPDATED: 16:27 18 August 2020

Cambridgeshire MPs and their reaction to the 2020 exams u-turn. Pictures: PA Wire / PA Images, Terry Harris, LDRS

Cambridgeshire MPs and their reaction to the 2020 exams u-turn. Pictures: PA Wire / PA Images, Terry Harris, LDRS

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There was a mixed response from Cambridgeshire MPs - and in some instances no response at all - as the Government first refused but then agreed to back down over the way A-level results were handled.

The government and Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual) announced yesterday (Monday) that they would drop the system of determining A-levels and GCSE results using an algorithm and instead use teacher assessments – while retaining the algorithm grades where they produced a higher result.

Both the education secretary, Gavin Williamson, and the chairman of Ofqual apologised for the distress caused.

Anthony Browne MP, a Conservative, welcomed the government’s U-turn despite strongly opposing using teacher assessments only days ago.

He tweeted before Monday’s U-turn: “For many months students have not been able to attend school, they have had their exams cancelled, and now they have had their futures thrown into confusion - or worse.

“What has happened is unacceptable - I completely understand the anger of students, parents and teachers.”

But over the weekend, he had said: “I absolutely do not believe that we should follow the ‘Scottish option’ of just giving students the results predicted by their teachers, as some are suggesting.

“That is a simplistic solution that doesn’t bear close scrutiny.”

The South Cambs MP had argued teachers were under “huge pressure from parents to be generous” when predicting grades, that using teacher-predicted grades would be “unfair” to other year groups and those at schools which offered more conservative estimates.

He also warned it would leave universities facing the prospect of having too many students meeting their offers.

He did say he was for “cutting slack” for this year’s students, and that the algorithm had produced results that “do seem manifestly unfair”.

But he argued in favour of using the appeals process.

But following the government’s lead, Mr Browne then welcomed the decision to switch to the system which he had been, as one political opponent put it, “pretty unequivocal” in his opposition against.

Mr Browne blamed “the significant change in circumstances over a weekend where Ofqual’s continued prevarications have caused anguish for students, parents and teachers”.

“The withdrawal of guidance on appeals within hours of it being issued was unacceptable and caused genuine chaos,” he added.

“An effective system of appeal would have been able to deal with the understandable grievances that students and schools have communicated to me over the last few days. It is clear that such a system is not now possible, particularly given the looming deadline for university applications.

“In light of this, as I made the views of my constituents and local teachers known to government and ministers, I have pushed for robust action and very much welcome their new approach, listening and taking all the feedback on board.”

He said he understood and sympathised with the anger felt by many students “who have been unable to attend school for months, had their exams cancelled, and faced the heartbreak of seeing their futures thrown into doubt by a computer algorithm that didn’t enable them to show what they are capable of”.

He added: “Even though this is the best solution now, it will undoubtedly produce its own problems, particularly with university admissions. I remain ready to listen, understand and assist anyone who continues to face uncertainty or feels unfairly treated.”

Paul Bristow MP, also Conservative, has been offering to help constituents caught up in the debacle since the issue came to light on the A-level results day on Thursday.

He tweeted: “We are liaising with Ofqual and relevant universities.

“My team and I will try our very best to help.”

Labour MP Daniel Zeichner has also been sharing his sympathies with students throughout.

“What a fiasco,” he tweeted on Monday night.

“I welcome the U-turn but make no mistake this has been an appalling episode. The situation was foreseeable and avoidable.”

He added: “This late policy shift comes after heartbreak for students, some of whom have lost places at university and it will have long-lasting consequences.”

Other Conservative MPs – Stephen Barclay (North East Cambs), Lucy Frazer (South East Cambs), Shailesh Vara (North West Cambs) and Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon) - opted not to share their thoughts on the issue over social media.

But a statement from Ms Frazer on Monday evening said: “This year’s results were issued in unique circumstances.

“The Department of Education and Ofqual tried to formulate a new system to contend with the inability of students to take exams, but it quickly became clear that the new approach would unfairly penalise many hard working students.

“Once that became clear it was right to revert to grades issued by the teachers of each local school and college. I support that decision, and believe it will address the many concerns that were raised.”

Earlier in the day, chairman of Ofqual Roger Taylor said in a statement: “There was no easy solution to the problem of awarding exam results when no exams have taken place. Ofqual was asked by the secretary of state to develop a system for awarding calculated grades, which maintained standards and ensured that grades were awarded broadly in line with previous years. Our goal has always been to protect the trust that the public rightly has in educational qualifications.

“But we recognise that while the approach we adopted attempted to achieve these goals we also appreciate that it has also caused real anguish and damaged public confidence. Expecting schools to submit appeals where grades were incorrect placed a burden on teachers when they need to be preparing for the new term and has created uncertainty and anxiety for students. For all of that, we are extremely sorry.”

Ian Sollom, parliamentary spokesperson for the South Cambs Liberal Democrats, said: “This U-turn is a victory for common sense but it should never have got this far. While it is embarrassing for the government, it has been excruciating for students and their teachers. It’s hugely disappointing that South Cambs‘ MP was so vociferously against this move over the weekend and not urging the education secretary to do what was so obviously the right thing.

“There is still a long way to go to clean up this mess. Government must provide the clarity young people need, including supporting and resourcing universities and sixth form colleges to ensure all provisional offers are honoured.

“In addition, ministers must follow the example of the Welsh Liberal Democrat Education Minister and commit to an independent review of the process – that’s what transparent and accountable leadership looks like.”

Leader of the Labour group on Cambridgeshire County Council, Elisa Meschini, described it as: “An incredible U-turn from the government after being beaten to the sensible course of action by the Scottish and then the Welsh government.

“Also an embarrassing show of failing to take responsibility for the blunder by no government minister making an appearance and allowing the chair of Ofqual to make the announcement instead.

“Ofqual set the algorithm according to the policy direction set by the DfE and number 10. Ofqual didn’t just make it up on the hoof. Cowardly behaviour by this government.”

The education secretary Gavin Williamson said in a statement: “This has been an extraordinarily difficult year for young people who were unable to take their exams.

“We worked with Ofqual to construct the fairest possible model, but it is clear that the process of allocating grades has resulted in more significant inconsistencies than can be resolved through an appeals process.

“We now believe it is better to offer young people and parents certainty by moving to teacher assessed grades for both A and AS-level and GCSE results.

“I am sorry for the distress this has caused young people and their parents but hope this announcement will now provide the certainty and reassurance they deserve.”


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