Students left in university limbo, says MP

THE MP whose constituency takes in the area’s sixth form colleges has slammed the Government’s handling of the A Level exams results.

Angela Rayner admits she has been told by students they still do not know if their first choice university place is available, even after their results were upgraded.

Those leaving Ashton Sixth Form College, Tameside College and Clarendon College were left in as much a state of bemusement as anger when their grades were revealed on Thursday, August 13.

Two questions dominated. How did they come up with this when I had been told I would get something else? And what does this mean for the university place I had been offered?

Ashton Sixth Form College

A humiliating U-turn from using an algorithm to teacher assessments only served to make the pain of uncertainty last longer.

It led to a withering blast from the Ashton MP, who is also the Labour Party’s deputy leader.

Mrs Rayner said: “I am so proud of the young people across my constituency who achieved fantastic results in the most difficult of circumstances.

“Their hard work, effort and determination shone through despite the chaos and confusion caused by this Government’s total incompetence.

“On the day the results were released, Boris Johnson defended them, saying they were ‘robust’, ‘good’ and ‘dependable for employers’.

“It didn’t take long for him to have to admit that wasn’t the case.

Clarendon College

“The Government had months to sort out exams but had to be forced to make a screeching U-turn after days of confusion and upset for students who feared the future they had worked so hard for had been snatched away from them at no fault of their own.

“More than a week after A Level results day, students still didn’t have the clarity they need to move forward.

“While their grades have now improved, they still didn’t know whether their places at university are still available for them. The whole thing has been a complete fiasco.

“I received some heart-breaking emails and calls from students that were utterly devastated at the results they received. They knew they deserved better.

“While their grades may now have been altered, not all of them have had it confirmed that their first choice university place is still available to them and some were forced into accepting alternative offers so their heartache and uncertainty continues.

“It’s just not fair that they could be robbed of their future.”

GCSE results a week later were shrouded in equal amounts of uncertainty, while those studying some BTEC courses were unable to receive their results at all after a directive hours before they were meant to.

And Mrs Rayner agreed with sentiments the Government’s handling of the results – particularly Education Secretary Gavin Williamson – played on geographical and societal divides.

She added: “The U-turn was a welcome and necessary change in policy, but we should never have been in this position as the Government had months to get it right.

“The system was biased against working class students – a real kick in the teeth.

“Education Secretary Gavin Williamson was warned about the implications of pursuing the road he decided to go down but he simply didn’t care. He’s out of touch and out of his depth.

“Our young people deserve so much better.”

Tameside College

Jonathan Reynolds, MP for Stalybridge and Hyde, has been contacted by students and parents affected by the A Level fiasco and has been working with local colleges to understand the full local impact.

He commented: “Almost 40 per cent of A Level students woke up to discover that, despite Covid-19 robbing their chance to sit their exams, their predicted grades had been downgraded, potentially missing out on their choice of university.

“Moreover, students from private schools had been disproportionately advantaged, and students from state schools and, particularly relevant to Tameside, colleges, were more likely to have been marked down.

“I myself went to an ordinary college where at the time too few kids got the grades I did, and I would likely not be in Parliament or the Shadow Cabinet today if this algorithm had determined my own A Level results.

“We have to have a system where bright, hard-working kids from normal backgrounds have a decent and indeed equal chance.

“The Government’s U-Turn is a testament to the strength of reaction to this injustice, but for some students, it was still too late, and for university admissions offices, it was a nightmare, having already given the places away to others.

“Determining A Level results fairly was always going to be a challenge but this fiasco was completely avoidable. Boris Johnson’s invisibility throughout was negligent, and Gavin Williamson as Education Secretary has completely lost the confidence of students, parents and teachers.

“Thank you to every single one of you who has been in touch about this shambles. I’m so sorry for the stress you’ve been through and will continue to fight your corner.”

The Government’s handling of exam results has been described as “an almighty mess” by Andrew Gwynne, MP for Denton and Reddish.

He said: “It is not as though the Government was unaware of the problems as they had been warned by the Education Select Committee.

“They had also been warned as the Scotland results had already been published.

“There was ample opportunity for the Government to take control before it got out of hand.”

Mr Gwynne added he was glad the computerised system of calculating results by algorithms was abandoned in favour of teacher assessments.

He also had sympathy for students who have been left in limbo.

Mr Gwynne said: “Now we have the unfair situation in which students have been declined university places because they had not got the results needed before they were revised.

“Their places have since been given to other students so they will have to take another course or wait one year which will have a knock-on effect on university places in 12 months.

“I am glad results have been rectified, but my heart goes out to students who cannot go to university because of this. The impact will go on until next year and that is unforgivable.”

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