Gavin Williamson ‘warned of major flaws in A-Levels algorithm’ two weeks before results day

PUBLISHED: 09:29 02 September 2020 | UPDATED: 09:32 02 September 2020

Education secretary Gavin Williamson announced the U-turn on A-level and GCSE grades  on August 17. Picture: Victoria Jones/PA.

Education secretary Gavin Williamson announced the U-turn on A-level and GCSE grades on August 17. Picture: Victoria Jones/PA.

PA Wire/PA Images

Education secretary Gavin Williamson was warned about problems with the algorithm that set A-Level results two weeks before results day, a report suggests.

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The Guardian claims that the government minister was given evidence of the flaws in the grading system before the results were published in England by Cambridge Assessment, which operates the exam board OCR.

One of the warnings, the newspaper reports, came two weeks before the A-Level results day while another was made days before the GCSE results were revealed.

Evidence from the firm noted: “We suggested to the DfE that GCSE results should be delayed and rerun, and we made Ofqual aware of the detail of our analysis and of our policy recommendations. Ultimately, Ofqual took another course of action.”

A former Department for Education director general - Sir Jon Coles - also told Williamson that such a system would penalise the poorer pupils a month before a decision was taken to scrap the system.


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But while Gavinson was given warnings about the system, he was reassured by exam regulator Ofqual that the flaws could be managed by allowing schools to appeal any questionable results.

It contradicts the ministers’ claims he had only been made aware of “real concerns” after the initial A-Level results were published on 13 August.

But Ofqual, which hired a firm linked to Dominic Cummings to deal with communications for A-Level results, dismissed the revelations.

They said: “These are astonishing comments. Cambridge Assessment and OCR were totally key to the development, testing and quality assurance of the algorithm right from the beginning through to delivery. Their warning about A-levels came a day after results were released and was incorrect.

“It also came as Ofqual itself was developing a possible appeals process. Ultimately, it’s clear that no appeals process would have provided a satisfactory outcome to this affair while still retaining national standards. That is why Ofqual ended up returning to centre-assessed grades.”

A spokesperson for the DfE has declined to comment.

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