As the head of an A Level art department, I’m used to marking and internally moderating students’ work. Once our part in the process is complete, the exam board will then usually send in a moderator to check and sample what we’ve done.

That, of course, didn’t happen this year.

When we met as a department for cross-moderation to ensure standards, we quickly agreed that we would mark accurately, honestly and in line with previous standards. We knew then that it was almost inevitable that we’d see an increase in overall grades nationwide, but concluded that the more honest teachers were, the less likely it was that this kind of inflation would happen.

Needless to say, adopting this approach clearly carried with it an element of risk. If we were to mark honestly while others didn’t, that could disadvantage our own students. It was therefore with some trepidation that we awaited results day.

When the results first become known, it was immediately clear to us that overall grades were down, but that experiences varied between different pathways.

As a college still offering the AS level qualification, it was interesting to observe during that initial results week the differences between our first and second year outcomes. Within AS we saw a significant drop for around 50% of our students – B grades taken down to Cs, and C grades down to Ds. Among the second year, we noticed more of a depression at the top end, with a number of students fully deserving of As or A*s dropping by one grade.

We already felt then that each drop wasn’t an accurate representation of the quality of the students’ work. For us, the bottom line is that these results simply weren’t fair.

And then, of course, everything changed.

Cue the U-turn

Writing one week on from the events described above, it’s now abundantly clear that this situation simply shouldn’t have happened. The indications from Scotland, and the subsequent rapid U-turn by the Scottish government, should have served as ample warning for what was about to befall England’s A Level and GCSE results days.

It was plain to see that England’s results were going to be mired in numerous issues from the moment the government decided to do away with any form of exam-based assessment this year, given how committed they’ve been to the model of formal exams, end of course assessments and linear qualifications. The government’s rationale for cancelling exams back in March was entirely understandable, but it left a large, unanswered question. Just how, exactly, do you fairly and accurately assess qualifications without formal assessment?

This week’s decision to award AS, A Level and GCSE grades on the basis of centre assessed grades was, of course, the right one – though if they’d made the call sooner, many problems could have been avoided. How should universities now decide who to accept? What do we say to students who chose universities that would have accepted them, but withdrew their place after results day and have since offered it to someone else – despite those students now having the right grades for that place after all…?

For many, deferring or taking a year out may be a valid option, but for many more it won’t be. Options to travel have been severely curtailed, and opportunities for work similarly limited. This September, many students will find themselves trying to secure a year’s employment just as the government’s furlough scheme comes to an end and redundancy figures spike.

The decision to prioritise an algorithm over teacher assessment has caused numerous issues that could have otherwise been avoided. The aftershocks of this year’s results will be felt for many years to come.

The author is based at a sixth form located in the West Midlands