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Pupil power! March on No.10 as fury over A-levels mounts

Listen to us: Students in
Parliament Square yesterday
PICTURES: ALAMY/REUTERS/PA/GETTY

ANGRY students marched on Downing Street yesterday, demanding education secretary Gavin Williamson ‘quit or be fired’ over the A-level results ‘fiasco’.

In a display of pupil power, hundreds gathered in Westminster holding placards and chanting as they called on Boris Johnson to ‘come out of hiding’ and take personal responsibility for the ‘chaos’.

Around 270,000 A-level results — some 39 per cent of the total — were downgraded from teachers’ predictions, based on a government-approved algorithm. There are now calls to delay Thursday’s GCSE results.

‘You failed us’: Education secretary Gavin Williamson

The protest, which began in Parliament Square before moving on to the Department for Education, came after exams regulator Ofqual suspended the appeals process for pupils, promising further information will follow ‘in due course’.

Former Tory education secretary Lord Baker was among those calling for this week’s publication of GCSE results to be put on hold, amid fears of similar chaos.

Lord Baker, who oversaw the launch of GCSEs in the 1980s, said: ‘I urge the education secretary to instruct Ofqual not to release the GCSE results this Thursday as their algorithm is flawed.

‘It’s a huge mess’: Education committee chair Robert Halfon

‘The A-level results have produced hundreds of thousands of unfair and barely explicable downgrades.’

There were claims that the algorithm favoured private schools over state ones. Demonstrators in central London brandished placards bearing slogans such as ‘Trust our teachers’ and ‘I want A-level playing field’.

Others called for Mr Williamson to ‘shut up and go away’ — echoing what he told Russia to do during a diplomatic row when defence secretary in 2018. One of the organisers, 18-year-old Ted Mellow, from Wood Green, north London, said: ‘Everywhere you look, people are either angry or confused. We are not fighting so everyone gets A*s and As because we know that’s unrealistic — we are fighting so people get the grades they deserve.’

Daisy Dewar, 18, who was planning to study medicine, said: ‘My future has basically been ripped out of my hands. They took my grades down from A*AA to BCC. I had four offers from medical school and now that’s over.’ She added: ‘I’ve had to overcome massive obstacles in my life and I’ve worked really hard for a better future… now it’s all been thrown back in my face.’

Students had been assured by the DoE that they could use the highest grade out of their teacher’s prediction, their mock exam results or sit a full exam if they were unhappy with their grades. But Ofqual suddenly withdrew this offer on Saturday night. Tory MP Robert Halfon, who chairs the Commons education committee, called their actions ‘unacceptable’, saying it was a ‘huge mess’. He added: ‘Ofqual shouldn’t put things on websites, take them away, sow confusion — this is just not on and it has got to be changed.’

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: ‘It is quite clear the rules are being written and rewritten on the hoof. The people that are suffering are the thousands of young people who have seen their future options narrow and disappear through no fault of their own.’

Children’s commissioners for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland sent a joint letter to universities urging them to give places to all students with conditional offers. They said they were ‘very concerned to hear from candidates who have been rejected by universities on the basis of results which appear not to reflect their ability and anticipated attainment’.