Goodbye A Level Algorithm: Why 2022 and Beyond Will Be Algorithm Free


  1. Who made the A level algorithm?
  2. What was the A level algorithm?
  3. What was wrong with the A level algorithm?
  4. How will the future be A level algorithm free?
  5. Will A levels go ahead in 2022?


You probably heard about the controversial A level algorithm even if you weren’t directly caught up in the debacle. The pandemic has brought many unfortunate knock-on effects and the A level algorithm hit many school-leavers and expectant uni-hopefuls hard. We’ll look at what went wrong and the new plans for awarding GCSE, AS and A level grades.exams

Who made the A level algorithm?


The A level algorithm was designed by Ofqual, the regulator of qualifications, exams and tests in England. It was created at the request of Gavin Williamson, Secretary of State for Education, who is in Boris Johnson’s Conservative government.  


What was the A level algorithm?


Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, students in the UK didn’t sit exams in 2020 because schools were closed in accordance with lockdown rules. This meant that students in England were given grades by Ofqual in a bid to avoid grade inflation. 🎓

To do this, the following process was decided on:

  • Teachers were to provide an estimated grade for each student (per subject) and a ranking as to where the student came in against their peers at their school
  • These predictions were run through an algorithm that factored in the school’s performance in each subject over the previous three years

The idea of the algorithm was to get similar national results to previous years. Ofqual argued it was a more reliable way to do this rather than solely rely on teachers’ predictions. 


What was wrong with the A level algorithm?


Before the A level algorithm was retracted, there were a number of issues and inequalities identified that arose from using the algorithm.

Here were some of the main problems

  • Downgraded results
  • Bias
  • The “Triple-lock” system being flawed

Downgraded results

The algorithm downgraded 39 percent of the A level grades forecasted by teachers in England. Furthermore, 3.5 percent were reduced by two or more grades. 


The algorithm was criticised because it ended up being disadvantageous to state school students and those from poorer backgrounds. 

“Triple-lock” system promised but not delivered

On top of this, the government promised students a “Triple-lock” system which was supposed to mean that students could take the highest grade from either their mock exam, their teacher’s prediction, or from sitting a “real” exam in autumn.

However, guidance over the appeals process was published online stating that if a student’s mock exam results were higher than their predicted grade they would still have to accept the prediction as their grade. 

The end of the A level algorithm

There was widespread outrage once the results were announced and the discrepancies came to light. 😠 The government reversed its decision and announced that the A level grades would be changed. 

In the end, the A level results reflected the teachers’ predictions and not the result produced by the algorithm. However, in order to minimise further distress, students that had received a higher result from the algorithm could take that grade. 


Will the future be algorithm-free?


The government announced that 2021’s summer grades were not to be graded by an algorithm. Instead, they were determined by:

  • The teacher’s judgement with the grades signed off by the Head of Department before being submitted to the exam board
  • School and college assessments
  • Students were only to be assessed on what they had been taught

In addition to these factors, the government declared that schools and colleges would tell students the evidence they use to work out grades. However, students wouldn’t be told what grade had been submitted for them. Private candidates could work with a school, college, or exam centre to give evidence on what their grades would be based on. 


Will A levels go ahead in 2022?


Ofqual has already announced guidelines for returning to the pre-pandemic standard. In order to be fair to students who have suffered disruption this year (during 2021), 2022 will be a transition year. 🙃

With this in mind, Ofqual is planning that 2022 results will lie somewhere between 2019 and 2021. This means that overall results will be higher than in 2019 but not as high as the inflated 2020 results. Over the past couple of years, a higher percentage of students have received top grades compared to pre-COVID times.

The goal now is to transition back to exams and formal assessments while being fair to any disruption that current students have faced. Of course, this is all assuming that the rest of 2021 and 2022 can remain lockdown-free and stay on track for classes and exams to take place. 

Regardless of what the future holds, it’s safe to say that the A level algorithm as we knew it in 2020 won’t be making an appearance again. We wish the best of luck to any students out there with their studies and want to commend all the students, parents, and teachers alike for their resilience, flexibility, and tenacity in these ever-changing times.