Penny Mordaunt has become the first serving government minister to go public with concerns about the exam grades crisis, as a growing number of Conservative MPs call for a change of tack.
With details of the A-level appeals process still unavailable four days after the results were published, many Tory MPs have become increasingly exasperated with the government’s handling of the issue.
The education secretary, Gavin Williamson, has made no public comment since an interview on Saturday in which he said there would be, “no U-turn, no change”.
At least 20 Conservative MPs had made their concerns known publicly by lunchtime on Monday.
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Mordaunt, the paymaster general and a Cabinet Office minister, tweeted that she had “been in touch with a large number of students and parents re exam results. Seeking a further meeting today with the minister.
“I will be supporting colleges in their appeals, working to ensure those who have the grades on appeal can go to uni this year if that is what they want. 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. Delaying a year won’t be an option, and it shouldn’t be an option. For many it will mean falling out of education.”
She added: “I have also made my views on GCSE results known to DfE. Will be posting updates later today.”
Mordaunt became the most prominent of a string of Tory MPs who have called for the government to get a grip on the crisis.
Stephen Hammond, a former minister and Conservative party vice-chair, told Sky News that the A-level results process has been a “shambles” and that the exam regulator, Ofqual, must come up with a clear appeals process for students by 5pm on Monday.
“It’s gone very rapidly from some clarity to a shambles and I think what is clear now that by the end of the day there needs to be an appeals process that is fair, resolves matters quickly, simple and transparent to understand so that we can help all those who feel distressed, frustrated by the grades they have been given.”
The Conservative MP Bob Neill, the chair of the justice select committee, agreed that the government and Ofqual must provide a clear appeals process by the end of the day. He said teacher-assessed results should also be given for GCSEs on Thursday to avoid another A-level-type fiasco.
Stubbornness could have been behind the decision not to follow Scotland’s lead by announcing a U-turn and using teacher-assessed grades instead of the algorithm, he suggested.
“They have got to give teacher-assessed grades. It is the lesser of evils. This is an exceptional year and they ought to realise that.
“The harm potentially done to a signifiant number of people outweighs the academic niceties of maintaining this approach.
“We shouldn’t be afraid to change our minds – sometimes it’s not a sign of weakness. Just because Nicola Sturgeon has gone down that route, is not necessarily a reason not to do it. We shouldn’t allow that to get in the way.”
The equalities committee chair, Caroline Nokes, said her committee would be keen to become involved in investigating what she called the A-levels “debacle”.
Other senior Conservative MPs including Tim Loughton and Iain Duncan Smith have also expressed concerns about the anomalies created by Ofqual’s grading algorithm.
The former Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson, who was recently given a peerage by Boris Johnson, warned her colleagues publicly on Sunday that the issue “needs gripped”.
“This is not just one of these bubble issues. This is something that cuts through everything. MPs should be telling the chief whip, including conservative MPs, that this will absolutely be one of the things that, even people who don’t even pay attention to politics, will be all over because this is their child’s future,” she told Times Radio.
Tracey Crouch, a former sports minister, told constituents in a Facebook post: “Now that it is clear that Ofqual think it is a flawed algorithm, we should revert to the teacher grades.”
The former Liberal Democrat schools minister David Laws, now the executive chair of the Education Policy Institute thinktank, joined the former Tory education secretary Lord Baker in calling for this week’s GCSE results to be delayed.
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“It is essential that GCSE grades are not published until Ofqual is confident that they are fair and robust and will not lead to further speculation or uncertainty and a requirement for mass appeals,” he said.
“Ofqual has tried hard to maintain the overall credibility of the exams system this year, but this seems to have come at a very high price to fairness to individual students. In making a choice between guarding exam standards and fairness to individual students, it is much more important to prioritise fairness to students.
He said it was “difficult to avoid the conclusion” that the best approach would be to use teacher-assessed grades for GCSEs, as the Northern Ireland executive has announced it will do.
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