Students deserve to see accountability over delayed results

22 Aug 2022, 18:00

Awarding organisations, education institutions and the exams regulator should be open and honest about what’s led to delayed qualification results, writes Bernie Savage.

Everyone remembers the day they got their exam results. It’s one of those occasions in our lives that everyone’s got a story about. Countless hours of studying, practicing, rehearsing and revising all culminate in that one moment. 

Hundreds of thousands of students had their moment on Thursday and, for the vast majority of them, they were able to share their news with friends and families in a way that most of us take for granted. 

For some though, the anticipation culminated in disappointment, worry and anger. Not because they didn’t get the grades they were expecting, but because they didn’t get any grades at all

Just imagine; after a restless night’s sleep you head off to college, you stand in line and wait your turn, only to find an empty box where your final grade should be. 

It’s no wonder the students affected, and their parents, reacted with outrage. 

They should have been spending the weekend planning their next steps – sorting out university accommodation or applying for jobs or apprenticeships – not spending hours on hold to an exam body just to be told they’ll have to wait. 

It’s of little reassurance to be told, as ministers and exams bodies keep saying, that universities will hold on to students’ places while this mess gets sorted. 

Because the reality for those students who do not get the grades they need for their first choice, is that they now go to the back of the clearing queue at least five days after it opened. We’ve all seen the headlines about how this year is the most competitive clearing ever.

For there to be any BTEC and Cambridge Technical students still waiting for their final results is a disgrace. 

And the response from the awarding organisations involved, Pearson and OCR, has been woeful. It even took Pearson 13 hours to issue an apology on results day.

To add insult to injury, Pearson and OCR are keeping quiet on the numbers of students affected. They won’t say exactly what happened, why they didn’t spot any data errors sooner or even how long it’s going to take to resolve.

Let’s be clear, these organisations are not some chronically under-funded public sector regulators. They are massive commercial operators turning over huge sums on profit margins that FE colleges can only dream of. 

This is yet another example of private companies within our education system letting students down. By persisting with its failed marketisation of education, the government is continuing to send the message that profits come before students.

The prime minister’s caretaker ministers at DfE have given students no reason to believe they are on our side. James Cleverly and Andrea Jenkyns should be using whatever time they have left at the department aggressively defending students’ interests and holding Pearson and OCR to account. Yet so far, they are missing in in-action. 

We can’t and shouldn’t have to wait for a new government to see some accountability. 

Firstly, Ofqual’s chief regulator, Jo Saxton, should immediately make a public statement ordering an investigation into what’s gone wrong. Awarding bodies, education institutions and Ofqual’s own oversight should all be under the spotlight. The inquiry should be swift and completely transparent. 

“I have been explicit, that, on my watch, all of Ofqual’s statutory powers, resources and focus, will be to regulate in the interests of students of all ages and apprentices. Students will be out true north, our compass” Saxton said at a conference earlier this year. 

Time to show us what that means, Jo. 

Secondly, UCAS, universities and student housing companies must ensure that anyone that is delayed from confirming their place in higher education because of this mess is not disadvantaged. Students that have not yet been able to access clearing because they’ve not received their final grades, should still get a fair shot at the higher education place they want. 

And thirdly, we have to make sure this doesn’t ever happen again. Parliament’s education select committee should run accountability sessions in the House of Commons and demand to see proof that Ofqual and the awarding bodies have the systems and processes to ensure every student gets their qualification results on time.

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