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A year after the exam results debacle

Will consultation have helped in 2021?

A year ago, the announcement of A level results as determined by algorithm promoted an outcry that led to one of the most dramatic U-turns of the year.

Later in the month, we published an article that explored the extent to which the Government should have heeded clear warning signs in the responses to the consultation it had undertaken.

This year, one hopes that lessons have been learnt and that the Department of Education in England – and in the devolved administrations – will have made better use of public engagement and consultation in arriving at its decisions.

There WAS a consultation – albeit a short one. Ofqual published its consultation on 15 January and the exercise was closed on 29 January 2021. In that period, it received 100,596 completed responses. That is a ten-fold increase on the equivalent consultation in 2020.

The big difference is in the profile of respondents. This year, they included around 2,000 schools or academies, 58 local authorities, 300 representative groups of some description and 48,871 students!  Add 26,381 parents and 14,610 teachers and there is dramatic evidence that the issue has mobilised a lot of interested people. This may be possibly the best example yet of those who saw their interests being seriously prejudiced by last year’s destiny-by-algorithm debacle choosing to invest time in responding to a public consultation this time around. A serious attempt to try to influence future handling of a difficult issue.

Might this suggest that one of the ways to encourage greater participation in important consultations is to highlight those occasions when things go wrong and when warning signs were ignored. Should the Institute possibly do more of this?

With the introduction of the MIDAS data warehouse, we have the means to do this. It includes, for example, the facility for interested parties to comment on a consultation, current or completed.  You can view the details of this year’s consultation, (How GCSE, AS and A level grades should be awarded in summer 2021) and the data analysis on the MIDAS database here.

About the Author

Rhion Jones is considered a leading authority on Public Engagement and Consultation. A founding Director of the Consultation Institute, he is co-author of “The Art of Consultation” (2009) and “The Politics of Consultation” (2018). He has delivered over 500 training courses and Masterclasses and is a prolific writer on the subject, having written over 350 different Topic papers and over 50 full Briefing Papers for the Institute. Since 2003 over 15,000 person-days of training based on courses he invented have been delivered. Rhion is in demand as an entertaining Keynote Speaker and Special Adviser, particularly on the Law of Consultation, and its implications for Government and other Public Bodies. In 2017, he was awarded the ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’.

Read more about Rhion

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