A-level and GCSE students in England will receive grades decided by their teachers following a dramatic u-turn just days after Boris Johnson insisted this year’s results were ‘robust’.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson and Roger Taylor, the chair of Ofqual, the exams regulator, both issued public apologies for the distress the fiasco had caused pupils and parents.
The climbdown followed days of growing anger over the controversy, including from Conservative MPs.
Earlier two government ministers had broken ranks to publicly express their concern over a system that saw four in 10 teacher assessments downgraded by an algorithm designed to standardise marks.
The announcement means results in England, Wales and Scotland will all now be based on grades given by teachers.
Last week Mr Williamson defended the algorithm and insisted there would be “no u-turns”.
He also warned that to follow Scotland’s lead and dump the system, introduced after exams were cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic, would deliver “rampant grade inflation”.
But just days later Mr Williamson said: “I am sorry for the distress this has caused young people and their parents but hope this announcement will now provide the certainty and reassurance they deserve.”
Mr Taylor said: “I would like to say sorry. We have recognised the difficulty that young people have faced with coping with the receipt of grades that they were unable to understand the basis on which they had been awarded.”
It was not immediately clear what the u-turn would mean for students who missed out on their choice of university because of a downgraded result.
Earlier Boris Johnson has broken off from his holiday in a bid to try to head off the brewing crisis.
He held a meeting with Mr Williamson and senior government officials, dialling in from the start of his week-long break in Scotland.
As Mr Johnson came under increasing pressure from his own MPs over the issue, Downing Street appeared to concede the system was not fair.
The prime minister’s official spokesman said the government continued to work “to come up with the fairest system possible”.
But he added that the prime minister still had confidence in Mr Williamson.
As pressure from backbench Tory MPs grew, paymaster general and cabinet office minister Penny Mordaunt said she was “seeking a further meeting” with the Department for Education after speaking with students and parents about exam results.
“This group of young people have lost out on so much already, we must ensure that bright, capable students can progress on their next step,” she said.
Former Conservative leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith also called for the controversial algorithm to be dropped.
“No algorithm is going to sort our problem out,” he told LBC Radio.
Acting Liberal Democrats leader Ed Davey described Mr Johnson as a ‘failing’ prime minister, adding that his “report card for his first year in office makes for grim reading”.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said: “The Government has had months to sort out exams and has now been forced into a screeching U-turn after days of confusion.
“This is a victory for the thousands of young people who have powerfully made their voices heard this past week.”
The Independent reported last week that pupils were prepared to take to the streets in protest at widespread downgrades.
Since then ministers have ensured days of public protests as students railed against what they said were grade changes that disproportionately affected poorer pupils.