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anger over Scottish exam grades likely to be repeated across the UK – Channel 4 News


Students in deprived areas of Scotland were more likely to have their grades pulled down by the exams regulator than those in well-off parts of the country, it emerged this week.

Some otherwise high-achieving students complained of being marked down in all-important Highers exams – not because of their own ability or attainment, but because their school had performed badly in the past.

Schools in deprived areas tend to have worse exam records on average. So the decision to use an institution’s historical records in the allocation of grades has affected pupils in poorer parts of Scotland more than their richer peers.

One student said she was “devastated and really nervous for the future now” after the A and two Bs she had been predicted were brought down to three Cs and a D, jeopardising her place at Stirling University.

And it looks like exam watchdogs in the rest of the UK are on track to replicate the Scottish controversies when they release GCSE and A-level grades later this month. The English, Welsh and Northern Irish regulators all plan to take account of a school’s past performance when adjusting student’s grades this year.

What happened in Scotland?

Pupils throughout the UK have been unable to sit their usual exams because of the pandemic, leaving regulators with tough choices to make about how to award qualifications.

The Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) asked schools to estimate what students would have got if teaching and exams had gone ahead as usual. It then moderated those results in an attempt to even out differences between schools and between years.

As it turns out, the SQA felt that many teachers had been too generous with their estimates. Of the half-a-million individual grades submitted by schools, 124,564 were adjusted down. Fewer than 10,000 were bumped up. Nearly all the adjusted results (96 per cent) were changed by a single grade.

One of the factors that the SQA used to decide whether a grade should be changed is the school’s performance over the last four years.

For some individual students, this was very significant. Previously high-achieving pupils who were on track for top marks had their grades reduced to reflect their school’s past performance, rather than their own work and abilities.

And it had a disproportionate effect on students in economically disadvantaged areas. This seems to be because the poorer the area, the more likely the school is to have a bad exam record.

In the most deprived areas of Scotland, SQA moderators reduced the proportion of students getting A-C grades in their Highers by 15 percentage points compared to teacher estimates. In the richest parts of the country, they were brought down by 7 points.

Asked about this disparity at a recent press conference, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told Channel 4 News the new moderation system was “necessary to make sure we have a credible – and that’s important for young people – system of results”.

She added: “Without that system of moderation, I would be saying that 85 per cent of young people in our most deprived areas had passed Highers this year, compared to around 65 per cent last year and in previous years.”

“Poorer young people don’t do as well as more affluent young people and that is something we are working very, very hard, from the early years right through our school system, to try to rectify.”

She said students in Scotland would be able to appeal their grades.

What’s happening in the rest of the UK?

It looks like regulators in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are on course to replicate these controversies when GCSE and A-level grades are released this month.

Ofqual, the English exams watchdog, has its own rules for moderating grades. We won’t know the precise details until results day, but it seems they’ve adopted a similar moderation process to Scotland, which could see pupils downgraded simply because of where they go to school.

Ofqual guidance says their model will “consider each centre [school or college] individually, comparing centre assessment grades to the centre’s historical results taking into account the prior attainment of the current students, to judge whether its centre assessment grades are more generous or severe than predicted”.

In other words, they’ll be adjusting “centre assessment grades” (teachers’ estimates of what their students should have got) by looking at the school’s past performance. That’s what proved to be the sticking point in Scotland.

And Ofqual seems to explicitly rule out the use of data on individual students: “The process will consider prior attainment at centre level, not at individual student level; students’ individual performance will not be predetermined by their prior attainment at Key Stage 2 or GCSE.”

So it’s possible that, as in Scotland, students who achieved top marks throughout their academic careers will have their A-level grades reduced if their school has historically performed badly.

This concern was raised with Ofqual in the spring during its public consultation on how to moderate school-estimated grades this year. In the summary of responses, the regulator quotes a teacher as saying: “I am worried that individuals who would have excelled given the chance to sit exams are going to be unfairly penalised due to poor performance of their predecessors.”

And the effects won’t just be felt by individual students. So-called “turnaround schools” – institutions that have recently improved their exam results – risk being penalised today for past failings.

Responding to the Qfqual consultation, a school or college said: “For schools which have struggled in the past and are predicting a steep improvement in results, it would be devastating to use historical results.”

But Ofqual says: “While we recognise that a small number of centres would like standardised grades to reflect their recent or expected improvements in results, our research into GCSE grading shows the performance of centres rarely improves (or deteriorates) consistently in the short term. On balance, it is therefore best not to try to predict improvements in performance.”

An Ofqual spokesperson told FactCheck: “Although exams have been cancelled because of coronavirus, most students will still be able to move on to further study or employment as planned, with calculated grades – based on judgements from their schools or colleges and standardised by exam boards to make sure they’re consistent between centres.”

The regulator confirmed last night that schools in England will be allowed to appeal grades if they can show that historic data does not represent this year’s cohort. But unlike in Scotland, individual pupils will not be able to challenge their marks.

Meanwhile the Welsh exams watchdog, Qualifications Wales, will also be using “historic performance, adjusted for the ability of this year’s cohort” to work out if teacher’s estimates should be changed.

A spokesperson told FactCheck: “The approach to awarding this year’s grades has been carefully thought through to be as fair as possible in the circumstances and to protect the value of results. The standardisation process will use information about an exams centre’s historic performance, but this will be adjusted to reflect this year’s students so that learners across Wales are treated in the fairest possible way.”

Qualifications Wales says that the teacher-estimated grades were “generous”. Without standardisation, 40 per cent of A-levels would have received a grade A* or A, compared to 27 per cent in 2019. Such an increase “would not be credible”, according to the watchdog’s chief executive, Philip Blaker.

And in Northern Ireland, the regulator will also use a school’s results in the previous three years as part of the “statistical standardisation model” to work out if teachers are being too harsh or too generous.

We won’t know how much weight the regulators will put on historic records until the results are published. But the fact that all three intend to use this data when moderating this year’s students means it’s entirely possible that we’ll see the controversies in Scotland replicated throughout the UK this month.





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has coronavirus destroyed more jobs than the Great Recession? – Channel 4 News


More Brits claimed unemployment benefits in April 2020 than did even in the worst months of the last financial crash.

We’re going to look at what we know so far about the effects of coronavirus and lockdown on joblessness.

How many people have been furloughed? Which parts of the country have been hardest hit? And is it possible that the economy could bounce back when restrictions are eased?

How many people have been made unemployed since lockdown?

The best estimate we have so far of how many people have lost their jobs since the lockdown started is the “claimant count”. The figure is published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) every month and estimates the number of people on unemployment benefits like Jobseekers’ Allowance or Universal Credit.

The latest stats show a dramatic leap in the number of people claiming unemployment benefits: from 1.2 million in March to 2.1 million in April. That’s a rise of about 850,000 in a single month.

How does this compare to previous crises?

Early indications suggest that the unemployment associated with the coronavirus and lockdown is already more severe than the aftermath of the 2008 crash. At its peak, that crisis saw 4.9 per cent of adults claiming unemployment benefits (in October 2009 and January 2010).

A decade later, the figure for April 2020 is 5.8 per cent, up from 3.5 per cent the previous month. The graph is pretty striking:

What about when we look further back? The claimant count reached a staggering 10.6 per cent in the spring of 1986 – which remains the highest level since records began in 1971. And the recession of the early 1990s saw 9.9 per cent of UK adults on unemployment benefits for a number of months.

How many workers have been furloughed?

It’s worth bearing one very important fact in mind when comparing the coronavirus with other economic shocks: unlike in previous downturns, the UK government has taken the unprecedented step of paying the wages of private sector employees in a bid to preserve jobs.

Some 8.7 million British workers have been furloughed since the current crisis began – around a quarter of the workforce.

Under the terms of the furlough scheme, employees receive 80 per cent of their usual wages, up to £2,500 a month, from the government. A further 2.5 million claims have been made under the “Self-Employment Income Support Scheme”.

Both schemes are set to continue until October, though employers will be asked to cover some of the costs from August.

We will never know for certain what would have happened if the government had not intervened – but it seems likely that the lockdown would have put many more in the dole queue if they hadn’t.

Which regions of the UK have been hardest hit?

Every region of the UK saw the number of people claiming unemployment benefits increase as a proportion of the population between March and April – with the North East, Wales and Northern Ireland particularly hard-hit.

So what effect have these changes had on the overall proportion of people claiming unemployment benefits?

The North East, which already had the highest rate of claimants before lockdown began, remains at the top of this unhappy table. Some nine per cent of adults in the region claimed unemployment benefits in April 2020, according to ONS experimental data – up from 5.9 per cent the previous month.

The graph below shows each region’s figures for March (in purple) and April (in pink).

Proportionately, the South East (excluding London) has the lowest claimant count of any region as a proportion of its population: 4.5 per cent. Though it too has seen a significant rise since March, when the figure was 2.4 per cent.

What can we expect from the rest of 2020?

The independent Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) has produced some initial estimates of what the rest of 2020 might hold for the UK economy. The analysts are keen to stress that these are “broad-brush” predictions and should be treated with caution.

With these caveats in mind, the OBR estimates that UK GDP – the combined value of all the goods and services in the whole economy – will fall by 35 per cent in the second quarter of this year, before rising by 27 per cent in the three months after that.

It’s hard to convey in words how unusual both of these changes would be, so let’s put them in context with a graph that stretches back 50 years:

The OBR estimates that the UK unemployment rate could rise to 10 per cent in the second quarter of this year, before declining slightly to 8.5 per cent in the following three months.

Here’s how that looks in historical context:



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