Roger Taylor launches a full-throated defence of the body’s role in the exams fiasco during an appearance in front of MPs.
The content of the article:
It was a “fundamental mistake” to believe a controversial algorithm initially used for A-level and GCSE results would “ever be acceptable to the public”, the head of the exams watchdog has said.
Roger Taylor, chair of Ofqual, launched a full-throated defence of the body’s role in the exams fiasco during an appearance before MPs.
:: Follow live coverage of the latest coronavirus news and updates
The issue also dominated exchanges between Boris Johnson and Sir Keir Starmer during the first PMQs of the new parliamentary term.
Mr Taylor told the education select committee that the body advised the government against cancelling this summer’s exams because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Ofqual suggested to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson that they be held in a “socially distanced manner” due to COVID-19, Mr Taylor added, or if not to delay them.
“The third option – if neither of these were acceptable – would be to have to try and look at some form of calculated grade,” he told the committee.
Mr Taylor added: “It was the secretary of state who then subsequently took the decision and announced without further consultation with Ofqual that exams were to be cancelled and the system of calculated grades were to be implemented.”
He said the government was warned that cancelling exams and opting for calculated grades would be the “worst-case scenario”.
Mr Taylor told MPs that the situation was “rapidly getting out of control” and policies were being put forward by Mr Williamson that “weren’t consistent with our legal duties”.
Labour’s shadow education secretary Kate Green said the evidence raises “serious questions” about the education secretary’s role in the exams furore.
“Gavin Williamson has repeatedly tried to blame Ofqual and officials for the crisis over exams. It is now clear he was responsible,” she said.
“Williamson must urgently come to the Commons to offer an explanation and to take responsibility for his own incompetence.”
Mr Williamson has resisted calls to resign over the row, but told Sky News last month he is “incredibly sorry for the distress” caused to students.
He said up until A-level results day he had “every confidence” the algorithm would not penalise disadvantaged students.
But over the following weekend, when he said “it became clear there were anomalies”, the government U-turned and reverted back to using teachers’ predicted grades for A-levels and GCSEs.
When the results were released it was revealed that nearly 40% of A-level marks had been downgraded in England.
The system also appeared to advantage private schools, which saw nearly double the number of increases in top marks year-on-year compared to state comprehensives.
Boris Johnson was accused of “shamelessly trying to avoid taking responsibility” for the debacle after blaming the “mutant” algorithm.
The prime minister had previously defended the system, describing the marks given to students as “robust” and “dependable”.
Pupils back at school demand 'quick' decision on next year's exams timetable
Asked about the row at PMQs on Wednesday, Mr Johnson sidestepped a call from Sir Keir to reveal when he knew there was an issue with the algorithm.
“As a result of what we learned about the tests, the results that had come in, we did institute a change, we did act,” the PM said.
He labelled the Labour leader “Captain Hindsight”, accusing him of “leaping on a bandwagon”.
“The problem is he’s governing in hindsight, that’s why he’s making so many mistakes,” Sir Keir hit back.
He said Mr Johnson was guilty of “serial incompetence” and accused him of “making it up as he goes along”