I write my weekly article for the Brentwood Gazette a few days ahead of its publication each Wednesday. As has happened so often throughout the coronavirus pandemic, by the time it's in the paper things have moved on.
My original article is below, but today the Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, confirmed he had heard the views of young students and promised everyone is being treated fairly and this year's cohort of A level students will not be
disadvantaged by exams being cancelled by coronavirus through no fault of their own.
A triple lock has been introduced to give students an added safety net. Students will be able to accept their calculated grade, appeal on the basis of a valid mock result or sit an exam in the Autumn. All outcomes are given the same weighting by universities, employers and colleges. The triple lock will provide an additional safety net to the system of calculated grades, which is the fairest possible approach in the absence of exams. The grades students receive on Thursday will be based on the judgement of their school or college, and have been moderated by exam boards to make sure the same standard is applied for all students.
There is no perfect replacement for exams, but this plan will give employers the confidence in these results and ensure fairness for all young people so that they can progress to the next stage of their lives with confidence.
Good luck tomorrow, and let me know how you get on!
My casework inbox, which saw the number of emails and letters from constituents increase five-fold at the height of the coronavirus lockdown, is calming down a little, but there are still some issues in the news which are causing concern.
This week and next sees the publication of the A level and GCSE results for the cohort of Year 11s and Year 13s whose final summer exams were abruptly cancelled in March. This has meant schools and colleges have had to provide a ‘centre assessment grade’ for each subject – the grade each pupil would be most likely to have achieved had exams gone ahead. Schools and colleges also placed the students in rank order within each grade in each subject and submitted this data to the exam boards.
The Schools Minister, Nick Gibb, has made it very clear any process of this kind has its limitations and it is essential there is a robust appeals process in place, and has issued this information for worried students:
"Ofqual has this week published the final details of its appeals process, which will take into account a range of evidence, with the primary aim of ensuring grades are as fair as possible for all students. You may be interested to know in particular that Ofqual has confirmed that the grounds on which schools and colleges can appeal will cover cases of highly talented students in schools and colleges that have not in the past had strong results. For students who remain unhappy with their grades, there will be an opportunity to take exams this autumn.”
Ofqual has published guidance, including a student guide at https://www.gov.uk/guidance/your-results-what-next, which outlines how the process works and what students’ next steps might be, including if they are unhappy with their results. A national Exam Results Helpline will be operating from 8am to 10pm on 13 to 28 August for young people or their parents to speak to a professionally qualified careers adviser if they need advice on their next steps. The number for this is 0800 100 900.
I’ve also been getting a number of letters from constituents who are angry about the news reports they have seen about migrants crossing the English Channel in small boats. The Home Secretary, and my fellow Essex MP, Priti Patel, has made it very clear the number of illegal small boat crossings is not only dangerous and unacceptable, but wholly unnecessary as France is a safe country.
I wrote to the Home Secretary to raise the concerns expressed by my constituents about what happens to those who try to enter the UK illegally, and received this response:
“Our is law enforcement response has prevented over 1000 people from crossing by small boats in April and May 2020. As Home Secretary I can report that we have made requests to return 700 illegal migrants who have entered the UK via small boats in the last few months. So far in 2020, 21 people smugglers have been convicted and put behind bars as a result of Immigration Enforcement investigations, with more investigations underway.“
This is a difficult issue to tackle, with links to people smuggling and modern slavery, but I am convinced the Home Secretary is taking all necessary steps to secure the UK borders.