'Teenagers should be applauded for making the government change their minds over A-levels' say Harborough headteachers

'They didn’t go out and riot, they protested responsibly and I’m very proud of them all'

Tuesday, 18th August 2020, 2:03 pm
Updated Tuesday, 18th August 2020, 2:04 pm
Sixth form students protest against the downgrading of A-level results on August 14, 2020 in London, England. (Photo by John Phillips/Getty Images).

The proud head of a major Market Harborough secondary school is saluting “incredible” students for helping to pull off an astonishing Government U-turn on exam grades.

Dan Cleary, the principal at Robert Smyth Academy, said outraged teenagers should be applauded after they kicked up a firestorm of protest over chaotic A-level results.

He’s fully behind the Government’s shock move to use purely teachers’ assessments to grade sixth-formers as under-fire Education Secretary Gavin Williamson scrapped the controversial algorithm system.

Julie McBrearty, who heads up Market Harborough’s Welland Park Academy, is also backing the stunning radical rethink as her students wait to get their GCSE results on Thursday.

Both Harborough MP Neil O’Brien and Harborough council leader Cllr Phil King are also hailing the Government’s sudden about-turn.

Dan told the Harborough Mail: “There is a huge sense of relief around Robert Smyth that the Government is doing this.

“This is a very fair resolution and it’s to be welcomed.

“But let’s get one thing straight.

“This is a massive victory for the fantastic young people of Harborough and for the young people of this country.”

The Burnmill Road school’s popular principal stressed: “Our students have made their voices heard – and they have effected huge national change.

“This shows what can happen when enough people come together to speak out against clear injustice.

“Our young people were very angry and upset at the way that A-level grades were decided.

“But they didn’t go out and riot, they didn’t resort to lawlessness and violence on our streets.

“They protested responsibly, they launched petitions, they wrote to their local MPs and they campaigned.

“As a result they triggered this sensational Government U-turn within just 72 hours.

“And make no mistake that’s nothing short of incredible – I’m very proud of them all.”

Just over 100 youngsters received their A-level results at Robert Smyth last Thursday while 72 Year 11 pupils will receive their GCSE grades this Thursday.

“The way that our young people have reacted and responded to this critical issue is both empowering and inspiring.

“It’s heartbreaking that it’s come to this because they should have been listened to in the first place,” insisted Dan.

“But it’s very healthy for our society and democracy that their voices have made such a powerful impact.

“Students have clear principles and they have got their message across so forcefully and eloquently but peacefully to enact this amazing national change.

“We are determined that our young people will not be disenfranchised by Covid-19.

“We will do all we can to make sure that they all progress to their rightful destinations.

“It would have been good to see more pro-active consultation with our kids from our exam regulator Ofqual before this blew up.

“Students have an excellent perspective – and it’s their futures on the line here.

“But we are all pleased that both A-level and GCSE grades will now be based on our teachers’ assessments.

“Justice is being done.”

He said a fifth of their 18-year-olds are now set to go on to one of the elite 24-strong cluster of Russell Group universities.

“They are made up of some of the country’s most prestigious universities, including the likes of Cambridge, Durham and Oxford.

“It’s fantastic and we have more students going to these universities than we did last year,” said Dan.

“This is an incredibly positive, exciting story.

“It’s a brilliant reflection on the school and on our staff but most of all, of course, on the kids themselves that they have achieved this amazing level of success.

“More students than not have got the right grades for them in this unprecedented year when none of them got to sit their actual A-level exams.

“Most sixth-formers are being able to access the progression routes that they want – which is very encouraging.”

Julie McBrearty, the principal of Welland Park Academy, has 210 children waiting to be handed their GCSE results on Thursday.

“This whole situation has created anxiety, of course, for parents and students.

“It’s so much better that students will now be receiving their teachers’ predicted grades.

“I’m more than happy with that,” said Julie.

“We will benefit from all the confusion created over A-level grading and this will help us.

“Both students and parents can have total faith in our teachers’ assessments.

“Our teachers have worked with youngsters here for five years.

“They have invested a lot of time and effort in our students – and they know them best.

“So this is by far the best way forward in the absence of students actually sitting exams themselves.

“I have seen the grades predicted by our teachers for all our students.

“I believe that they are fair and balanced and certainly haven’t been inflated.

“If our teachers were regularly marking too high then everyone would be receiving the best grades – and that’s just not the case.”

She said results D-Day on Thursday will be even more “highly-charged and emotional” than ever after much of the Welland Park Road school’s been closed for five months.

“These results can decide young people’s pathways to their futures so they are all-important.

“We are inviting students and their families to come along and pick up their results in various well-ventilated rooms on Thursday,” said Julie.

“They’ll then be able to go out on to our field to talk and discuss their next steps.

“We will have teachers here as well as careers staff to support and guide youngsters as they plan and prepare for what they are going to do next.”

Harborough MP Neil O’Brien told the Mail: “There is no substitute for taking exams but clearly that’s not been possible this year due to the coronavirus.

“This is the right decision to go with teachers’ grade assessments.

“The Government’s tried to use a complicated algorithm to make it fairer but it’s not worked out.”

Neil added: “It’s been a tough year for students right across Harborough.

“It’s absolutely the right decision as well to remove the cap on university places.”

Cllr Phil King, who leads Harborough District Council, said: “It’s been shocking.

“I have no doubt that many young people and their parents will have been beside themselves over the last few days.

“It has been very stressful but the Government has now come up with a solution – and let’s hope the whole process can now get sorted out.”

A former long-serving school governor at both Robert Smyth and Welland Park Academies, Phil added: “I suspect the Government’s moved as quickly as it could to put this right.

“Ofqual put a system into place and when push came to shove it’s simply not delivered.

“The Government tried to create a fair system for all but it’s turned out to be flawed.

“And we couldn’t have hundreds of thousands of appeals against unjust grades being carried out – that would have been absurd.

“The Government’s taken the right step to resolve this sorry situation.

“But now it’s got to look at the competence and quality of another one of its key agencies, Ofqual, and ask how it can be improved and made much more effective for the future.”