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We still don’t have full transparency about the A level results fiasco

PUBLISHED: 08:00 17 September 2020

Teenagers from Hornsey and Wood Green with MP Catherine West at a Parliament Square protest over the downgrading of A Level results. Picture: Sam Volpe

Teenagers from Hornsey and Wood Green with MP Catherine West at a Parliament Square protest over the downgrading of A Level results. Picture: Sam Volpe

Archant

It’s never easy waiting for exam results. But for the Hornsey and Wood Green students who spent this summer waiting for the results of exams they never sat, determined by algorithms designed by someone who’d never seen their work, it has been particularly challenging.

Catherine West MP. Picture: Chris McAndrew (Creative Commons licence CC BY 3.0)Catherine West MP. Picture: Chris McAndrew (Creative Commons licence CC BY 3.0)

It’s never easy waiting for exam results. But for the Hornsey and Wood Green students who spent this summer waiting for the results of exams they never sat, determined by algorithms designed by someone who’d never seen their work, it has been particularly challenging.

Everyone accepts that setting grades was difficult in these unique circumstances. Yet the education secretary, Gavin Williamson, had five months to prepare and it wasn’t as if warnings weren’t flagged. Back in early July, the education select committee highlighted concerns that the government’s proposed model would particularly hurt students from disadvantaged backgrounds and a week prior to our own A-level results day we all saw what happened in Scotland. It’s hard to comprehend why Williamson pushed ahead and got things so badly wrong.

While the prime minister was pretending to be holidaying in a tent and Williamson was arranging photo shoots in his office, I joined local students in Parliament Square in their fight for justice. Many I spoke to were distraught, terrified that they’d lost their university places through no fault of their own and unable to believe that they’d been given grades far lower than anything they’d ever received throughout their education.

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The U-turn was inevitable and right, yet the fact it came so late and caused so much unnecessary distress is sadly symbolic of a government that throughout this Covid-19 pandemic has repeatedly made the wrong decisions, had the wrong priorities and failed to listen to expert warnings.

This endless pattern of incompetence is no way to run a country. Young people deserve to know how they came to be let down so badly, and the 17-year-olds just embarking on their final year of A-levels or BTECs need to know it won’t happen again.

In Parliament, Labour used our opposition day debate last week to challenge the prime minister and his government on what they knew and when. We asked for all the documents related to the exams fiasco to be provided to the education select committee to ensure absolute transparency and to avoid any repeat. Johnson refused.

It begs the question, what has he got to hide?

Catherine West is MP for Hornsey and Wood Green.


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