Downgraded A-level students urged to join possible legal action

Students affected by the mass downgrading of A-level grades in England have been urged to join a possible legal action against the Department for Education and the exams regulator.

Nearly 40% of A-level assessments by teachers were downgraded by Ofqual’s algorithm, according to official figures published on Thursday morning. The method for allocating results was used because students could not be assessed during the coronavirus lockdown.

Curtis Parfitt-Ford, an A-level student at a comprehensive school in Ealing, supported by Foxglove, a non-profit that campaigns against misuse of digital technology, has demanded that Ofqual correct defects in its grading algorithm or potentially be taken to court.

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In a legal letter sent to both Ofqual and the Department for Education, the algorithm was described as unfair and potentially discriminatory because it graded the school, not the student.

Parfitt-Ford said his peers deserved better than to be graded by a postcode lottery. He said: “I’m very conscious that something which works as a good system for me as someone who goes to a west London comprehensive school, with some of the best teachers I could possibly ask for and a great academic history, is probably not representative of what’s good for the rest of the country.”

Parfitt-Ford is calling on students affected by the algorithm to get in touch and potentially join his legal challenge.

The legal letter comes as the Association of Colleges sent a letter to the education secretory, Gavin Williamson, and Ofqual’s chief regulator, Sally Collier, calling for an urgent technical review.

“While 39.1% of centre assessment grades were adjusted down by one or more grade overall, we are hearing from a number of colleges that over 50% of their grades have been adjusted downwards. Colleges with large cohorts and very stable and predictable results over time are seeing their lowest grade profile ever, particularly at the higher grades, A to C,” the Association of Colleges chief executive, David Hughes, said.

Hughes warned of “systemic bias” because on average more disadvantaged students attend further education colleges.

“At a minimum, the government must ensure that there is a free appeal system open to any people on academic grounds,” Parfitt-Ford said. He urged the government to stick with the grades that the teachers had given their pupils.

“Given the government’s decided to use mock exam results, the government should trust teachers because the teachers are the ones that set those mocks and who marked those mocks.”

Martha Dark, director and co-founder of Foxglove, said: “We are seeing the very real impact of grades by algorithm today. It is heartbreaking that we are seeing years of study and hard work by students graded so unfairly. This completely undermines the sense that grades award individual effort and achievement.”

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