The UK has always been particularly proud of its high school and university entrance exams. They are called GCSE (General Certificate of Secondary Education) and “A-level” (Advanced Level). Students choose specific topics (at least three, usually four and a project) and prepare for a series of three to six exams between the ages of 16 and 18. They will be your passport to university education. Institutes do not conduct regular formal assessment tests, although many do take orientation tests to check student development. The final measurement of your ability is outsourced: it is carried out by an independent body, which is only subject to Parliament, called Ofqual (the Regulatory Office of Qualifications and Examinations, in its English acronym). For the second year in a row, the epidemic has changed everything. The UK’s strict social distancing measures have led the Ministry of Education to leave the final grades to the discretion of teachers. Failures will not be repeated last year, when the government finally had to pull an algorithm designed to counterbalance the inflated results the institutes offered. The result was then grades rated down to the ire of thousands of students. The current fear, as can be seen in 2020, is that universities will eventually be overwhelmed with applications for admission by applicants who, under official conditions, would not have reached the required standard. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “It is a fair and flexible system that ensures that young people can advance to the next stage of their education or career.” “No minors should be left behind as a result of losing education during this epidemic.” Colleges and universities have been closed since the beginning of January, and were actually suspended for three weeks in November.
The flexibility of standards for teachers has unleashed criticism and warnings in the educational community, despite a general consensus in recognition that teachers are best qualified to dictate student development and preparation. “We have our full confidence in them,” said Education Secretary Gavin Williamson in the House of Commons. “This time we will not rely on any kind of algorithm, although we will put in place a clear and robust system so that we can resume the results.” Ofqual will randomly analyze sample results to detect potential discrepancies in the grades of more than 1.2 million students. “There is still a grave risk that we will see huge discrepancies in grades of different students and schools, or that schools adopt different criteria when evaluating. As a result, we can find ourselves with too many resources or with over-inflated high scores,” noted Natalia. Pereira, director Education policy, An independent organization dedicated to educational policy analysis.
Last summer, after the first suspension of exams, British universities (including the prestigious Cambridge and Oxford universities) received an unexpected influx of admission applications, which in the case of medical schools exceeded 20% of the usual average.
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