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UK government faces more criticism after latest school exam problem

Students Protest Against Britain's Education Secretary Gavin Williamson, Amid The Coronavirus Disease (covid 19) Outbreak, In London
Students hold placards during a protest against Britain's Education Secretary Gavin Williamson, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in London, Britain, August 19, 2020. REUTERS/Simon Dawson

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government was facing fresh criticism on Thursday over its handling of grading for school exams after results for hundreds of thousands of student were pulled.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has been accused of overseeing a fiasco over how grades have been awarded to teenagers who were unable to take their exams because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Exam board Pearson announced late on Wednesday that it would recalculate grades for BTECs, specialist work-related qualifications, just hours before students were due to receive their results.

Its decision came days after the government bowed to pressure from angry pupils, teachers and lawmakers and ditched an algorithm that had downgraded A-level results for almost 40% of school leavers last week, with those in disadvantaged areas more adversely affected.

Students were told on Monday they would now be awarded the grade that their teachers had predicted for them based on past performance, and that process is also being adopted for younger pupils receiving their GCSE results on Thursday.

However, Pearson said that change meant it was now having to change its BTEC grades.

“We have become concerned about unfairness, including consistency with the approaches now being used for GCSE and A Levels,” it said in a statement.

Williamson has been accused of ignoring warnings that the grading system would lead to unfair results and both he and Johnson have been lampooned by the media for their handling of the issue.

“Every step of this way there are problems you have to encounter and deal with, and we are dealing with them swiftly,” schools minister Nick Gibb told BBC television. “We’re working, as I said, night and day to get these issues right.”

He echoed Williamson’s apology for the uncertainty and confusion caused.

“Gavin Williamson was warned again and again about the problems with the grading algorithm, and each time, he did nothing,” said Kate Green, the opposition Labour Party’s education spokeswoman. “This endless pattern of incompetence is no way to run a country.”

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