LONDON – Thousands of school-leaving children in Britain were left distraught Thursday after being handed lower-than-expected grades, with many questioning how the results were calculated after the coronavirus pandemic cancelled exams that are key for college applications.
The government is under growing pressure to address the question of how to fairly award students grades after the pandemic forced schools to close in March and cancelled standardized final exams that are a rite of passage for most British teens completing high school.
Figures on Thursday showed that some 40% of students’ grades — estimated by teachers based on children's academic performance — were marked down by an official algorithm meant to ensure that this year’s results wouldn’t be significantly higher than typical years.
Critics say such algorithm systems are flawed because they tend to disadvantage high-achieving pupils in low-performing schools and schools in deprived areas.
“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,” said Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders.
Thursday’s data also showed that the overall results showed record achievement levels for the highest grades.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson insisted that the system was fair, and said that students who are unhappy with their results can appeal or sit exams again in the autumn.
“The majority of young people will have received a calculated grade today that enables them to progress to the destination they deserve,” he said.