Thousands of A-level students are facing uncertain futures after grades were downgraded – with the poor, Northerners and state school pupils the worst hit.
The Government is under intense pressure to u-turn on the policy amid disappointment and anger from parents, teachers and young people.
Exam boards downgraded nearly 40% of results in England after this year’s summer exams were cancelled amid the coronavirus crisis.
But official figures showed that children from disadvantaged backgrounds, state schools and sixth form colleges lost out more than private school pupils.
And in a blow to Boris Johnson ’s “levelling up” agenda, schools in the North of England saw the lowest increases in top grades.
The Prime Minister insisted the system was “robust and dependable” while the exams regulator claimed there was no evidence of bias.
Yet according to Ofqual’s own analysis, pupils and schools in disadvantaged areas were marked down the most harshly by the statistical model used to replace exams.
Angry head teachers claimed that some of the lowered grades appeared to be “unfair and unfathomable” – even though top grades overall have gone up.
They accused Education Secretary Gavin Williamson of ignoring teachers’ judgment in the chaotic grading system.
“Something has obviously gone horribly wrong with this year’s exam results.”
Teachers had predicted results for students unable to take their summer exams due to the pandemic.
But many school leavers were left disappointed when their grades were lowered by a computer model designed to standardise grades.
In England, 36% of entries had a lower grade than teachers predicted and 3% were down two grades on teacher predictions.
The overall results across England, Northern Ireland and Wales, showed A* and A grades this year have risen to an all-time high.
Ofqual insisted that reports successful appeals against A-Level results could lead to other students being downgraded were not accurate.
Mr Williamson has apologised for the Government’s failures in education during the pandemic – but last night claimed the system was “consistent and fair”.
But Tory MPs are frustrated with the hapless Education Secretary after a series of bungled decisions made on schools during the pandemic.
Many of them deleted tweets which had criticised the Scottish government for “shattering the life chances” of a generation in a grading row last week.
Mr Starmer, on a visit to a school in Darlington, told reporters: “Parents, teachers and young people are rightly upset, frustrated and angry about this injustice. The system has fundamentally failed them.
“The Government needs to urgently rethink. We need to guarantee the right to individual appeals, the fee for appeals waived and nothing to be ruled out, including the u-turn that was forced on the Scottish Government last week.”
Geoff Barton, leader of the ASCL head teachers’ union, said there was “deep frustration” in schools about the confusion caused by the Government’s 11th hour changes to the system, including the use of mock grades if they are higher than the grades predicted by teachers.
“While there has been an overall increase in top grades, we are very concerned that this disguises a great deal of volatility among the results at school and student level,” he said.
“We have received heartbreaking feedback from school leaders about grades being pulled down in a way that they feel to be utterly unfair and unfathomable. They are extremely concerned about the detrimental impact on their students.”
The Sixth Form Colleges Association has called the system for calculating A-level grades “flawed and unreliable” after almost all colleges said grades were lower or much lower than predicted.
A third of college principals reported results lower or “dramatically lower” than their historic exam performance.
David Hughes, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, has written to Mr Williamson and Sally Collier, the head of Ofqual, demanding an “urgent technical review”.
He said: “If colleges and subsequently many disadvantaged students have been hit by an unfair or inconsistent process then this needs to be investigated immediately – and adjustments made quickly. This should not be left to individual colleges or students having to use the appeals process.”
Pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds were most likely to be marked down in their results as the system factored in exam performance at their school in recent years.
Some 85% of teenagers from the poorest households were predicted to get C or above by their teachers – but this fell to 74.6% under the new moderation process – a drop of 10.4 percentage points.
Those from middle-income backgrounds also saw their marks downgraded, from 87.69% to 78.2% – a fall of 9.49%.
Students from the wealthiest families fared best, as numbers awarded a C and above fell by 8.3 points during the process, from 89.3% to 81%.
Pupils at state schools and sixth forms colleges were more likely to lose out in the A-Levels chaos than private school children.
Many independent schools escaped the statistical moderation process because their smaller class sizes.
Data from the exams watchdog shows a 4.7% increase in A grades for independent school pupils compared to last year.
Grammar schools saw a 1.2% increase from 2019 and academies saw a 1.7% rise.
Comprehensive pupils attaining A grades rose by 2% while state sixth forms and colleges saw an 0.3% increase in the top marks.
The results also dramatically underminded the Government’s promise to “level up” the country as schools in the North saw the lowest increases in A grades.
Pupils in the North East and the North West had the smallest rises in top marks of 1.9% and 1.8% respectively.
Schools in the East Midlands saw the biggest rise in A grades on 3.4%, followed by London on 2.9% and the South West on 2.8%.
The South East and Eastern region saw an increase of 2.4% each.
Schools in Yorkshire and Humber and the West Midlands reported an increase of 2.2%.
Students in Wales, which has a slightly different system, were promised by ministers they will not receive a grade lower than their AS-levels.
A-level students at a school serving the child poverty capital of the country are among those who have had university hopes dashed after their results were downgraded.
Devastated pupils from Mulberry School for Girls in east London said the grading system was flawed and biased against poorer students after receiving heartbreaking results.
The school serves girls living in Poplar and Limehouse – which has the highest child poverty in the UK – so many of its pupils aim to educate their way out of deprivation.
Mr Johnson insisted he still had confidence in the system – and in his Education Secretary.
“Of course I do, but I think this is a robust system and it’s one that is dependable for employers,” he said.
“It’s very important that for years to come people should be able to look at these grades and think these are robust, these are dependable.”
Michelle Meadows of Ofqual said that the final grades received by students showed “simply no evidence of systematic bias” in this year’s results.
“It’s important to remember that what the research literature shows on A-level predictions for university entrance is that there is a tendency to be more generous for students of lower socioeconomic status,” she said.
*Have students got a fair deal? Let us know at www.mirror.co.uk/exams