Almost 40 per cent of A Level results have been downgraded in England - here's why

Thousands of students in England have had their A Level grades downgraded (Photo: Shutterstock)Thousands of students in England have had their A Level grades downgraded (Photo: Shutterstock)
Thousands of students in England have had their A Level grades downgraded (Photo: Shutterstock)

Exam boards across England have downgraded nearly two in five (39.1 per cent) of A Level results, amounting to around 280,000 moderated exam entries.

How were grades calculated?

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, students have not been able to sit their A Level exams this year, and as a result, have had their grades decided using a statistical model to standardise grades.

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Teachers were told to submit the grades which they thought students would have received had they sat their papers, alongside a rank order of students.

English exam boards then moderated these grades to make sure 2020 results were not significantly higher than last year's. This was done with the intention of avoiding undermining the value of students' grades, and takes into account factors such as a school's past performance.

However, thousands of students have been left disappointed today, as figures from Ofqual show that a total of 35.6 per cent of English A Level grades were downgraded by one grade, while 3.3 per cent came down two grades, and 0.2 per cent by three grades.

In spite of this, the proportion of students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland awarded A* grades this year has surged overall to nine per cent - the highest proportion since 2010, when the top grade was first introduced.

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What has the response been to results?

The National Union for Students has already responded to the news of downgrading with a petition, demanding the government give all students their teacher assessed grade without moderation - a model they say hurts the most disadvantaged students.

Social mobility charity upReach has also built a new CovidCohort Grades Evaluation platform for A Level students who believe their grades have been unfairly lowered. The charity says that predicted grades - and, thus, the teacher rankings used by Ofqual - have been shown to be a flawed means of predicting a student's final grades.

Analysis of university applicant data by University College London, for instance, showed that only 16 per cent of applicants had their grades accurately predicted, with 75 per cent over-predicted.

Crucially, however, they found that “high-attaining, disadvantaged students are significantly more likely to receive pessimistic grade predictions.”

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The tool from upReach helps educators, students and employers understand the likelihood that their grades have been unfairly downgraded by the 2020 system.

Can students and schools appeal grades?

If students did not get the grades they were expecting, they have a few options.

They can retake exams come autumn, or their school can appeal their grade on their behalf. Students cannot do this themselves.

In a last minute turnaround from education secretary Gavin Williamson, schools will also be allowed to appeal a student's grades, if the pupil got a better grade in their mock exam than the final grade they have received. However it is not yet clear how exactly the appeals will be carried out, as details of this year's process have not yet been published.

Ofqual has said it won't release the standards of evidence necessary for appeals on mock results until next week.