Unions blasted for A-level divide between state and private schools

Tory MP blasts ‘heavily unionised’ teachers and state schools for ‘holding back poorest children’ as private schools get DOUBLE amount of top A-level grades – after study showed 700,000 comprehensive pupils got NO home lessons at all

  • Row erupted as bridge between private and state pupils grows further yet again
  • 70 per cent of grades were A or A* at private schools across country, compared to 42 pc at state academies, 39pc at comprehensives and 35pc at sixth forms
  • Claimed that private school teachers under ‘great pressure’ to award high marks
  • Department for Education said to be considering scrapping grades for numbers
  • Comes as Tory MP Robert Halfon warned grade inflation was ‘baked into’ results

A Tory MP today blasted Britain’s ‘heavily unionised’ state schools for failing students as privately educated pupils gained almost double the proportion of As and A*s at A-level helped by Zoom classes ‘throughout the day’ during the pandemic.

Gavin Williamson is reportedly in danger of being sacked by Boris Johnson after a furious row erupted after the gap between private and state pupils in terms of top grades grew to its widest in the recent era.

During lockdown, where millions of children were forced to stay at home for months at a time, most private school children would receive up to six hours of online learning per day, when many state schools would get one hour or even none at all. An estimated 700,000 state pupils had no home lessons, and in some cases it was because some teachers felt ’embarrassed’ to be on screen. 

The National Education Union issued guidance to state schools warning online lessons should be kept ‘to a minimum’. Dr Mary Bousted, the union’s joint general secretary, said: ‘Teachers cannot be working as though they are sat in front of a class, and children cannot be expected to be able to study full time with online resources.’

Tory MP Andrew Bridgen, who has campaigned for a level playing field between comprehensives and private schools, told MailOnline state education was let down by unions and teachers during the pandemic, which was borne out in the results yesterday.

He said: ‘The state system is heavily unionised and this is holding back schools and the children they are meant to serve. People have to realise that the public sector is not being run for the benefit of the public – it is run for the benefit of the people working in it’.

Asked about the disparity in lockdown lessons between state and private counterparts he said: ‘It was all entirely predictable. You could see it coming a mile off. In the private sector there were Zoom lessons throughout the day. There is no reason why this couldn’t have been the same in state schools but it didn’t happen and once again children, often in the poorest areas of the country, have lost out’.

The number of teenagers getting top grades in A-Levels has risen across the board but private schools are pulling further ahead of state schools, almost doubling the number of As and A*s in the past two years since exams were postponed

70% of private school students have been given an A* or A this year – compared to around 39% for a non-selective comprehensive school

Gavin Williamson has been accused of presiding over an A-level system that has ‘baked in’ inequalities that has seen private schools streak ahead of most state schools

A-level grades could be scrapped in a massive overhaul of the education system to tackle soaring grade inflation that led to a record day of top marks in student results. Pictured: Happy students wave their A-Level results after collecting them at Taunton School in Somerset

Here is the weekly home education diary of a seven-year-old Year Two pupil at a private London prep school during lockdown – with work carried out at home being regularly emailed to teachers for marking and discussed in Zoom classes.


9am: 15-minute video assembly with headteacher.

10am: 40-minute phonics lesson live on Zoom.

11am: 40-minute maths lesson live on Zoom.

Emailed music and art lessons to do at home.

Phonics spelling test to do at home.

3pm: 30-minute class lesson live on Zoom.


10am: 40-minute English lesson live on Zoom.

11am: 40-minute maths lesson live on Zoom.

3pm: 30-minute class time live on Zoom.

Emailed Topic (history) lesson to do at home.


10am: 40-minute English lesson live on Zoom.

11am: 40-minute maths lesson live on Zoom.

High Frequency Words spelling test to do at home.

2pm: PE lesson live on Zoom.

3pm: 30-minute class time live on Zoom.

Emailed PSHE lesson to do at home.

Emailed computing lesson to do at home.


10am: 40-minute English lesson live on Zoom.

11am: 40-minute maths lesson live on Zoom.

3pm: 30-minute class time live on Zoom.

Emailed science lesson to do at home.


9am: 15-minute video assembly with headteacher.

Morning: Every pupil has ten-minute one-to-one time on Zoom with class teacher.

One-hour English writing exercise to do at home.

30-minute maths exercise to do at home.

Emailed French lesson to do at home.

Emailed RE lesson to do at home.


Weekend homework – usually something not too taxing after a hard week’s learning for pupils (and their parents!). 

The Campaign for Real Education has said the way state children missed out was ‘outrageous and immoral’ because it risked disadvantaged children being ‘thrown on the scrap heap’. 

MP says lack of learning during pandemic has been a ‘national disaster’ for UK’s poorer pupils as traditional state secondaries get half as many A-level A-grades as private schools 

The gulf between private and state schools has widened during the pandemic causing a ‘national disaster’ for Britain’s poorest students with fee-paying institutions accused of gaming the A-level system that handed teachers the power to grade their pupils with barely any moderation.

It was revealed that 70.1 per cent of teenagers at fee-paying schools received an A or A* in a subject in 2021 – compared to around 35 per cent in council-run comprehensives.

Education campaigners have said the pandemic has ‘compounded’ inequality in schools, especially for those in poorer areas, and there are also signs that middle class children in sixth-form colleges and grammar schools are falling further behind private school counterparts.   

It came as rampant grade inflation fuelled by the pandemic today led to almost half of all A-level students gaining an A* or A grade from their teachers – a new record. And only one in five of any of today’s A-level results were scrutinised by exam boards this year, it emerged today, with even fewer disputed by Ofqual who said they was happy to ‘trust teachers’.

In total 44.8 per cent of UK entries to a subject were awarded an A or A* grade this summer – up by 6.3 per cent on 2020 when 38.5% achieved it – and one in five of all results was an A* this year, another record.  It means that the number of top grades handed out has almost doubled in the two years since students last sat exams in 2019, when 25.2% got an A or an A*. 

As private schools pulled further away from state counterparts, Conservative MP Robert Halfon, chair of the Commons Education Committee, warned the last year ‘has been nothing short of a national disaster for our disadvantaged pupils’.


Mr Bridgen says that a standardised A-level exam should have been applied across the UK to make it fair for all children, and wider reforms to the A-level system allowing children to have the same chance of getting university places based on their results, not what school they went to or a ‘letter someone writes when they don’t get the grades’.

Former Ukip leader Nigel Farage said: ‘I am not surprised that private schools have done better than ever compared to state schools. They gave online lessons and a full timetable during lockdown. They had to or the fees would not have been paid. Too many in the state sector were not as lucky’.

Today it emerged that Boris Johnson could sack Gavin Williamson and bring in his ‘anti-woke’ Equalities Minister after the Education Secretary was accused of ruining the credibility of A-levels by ‘baking in’ soaring grade inflation.

Mr Williamson, nicknamed Private Pike by critics who compare him to the hapless young soldier in Dad’s Army, is said to be fighting plans for Kemi Badenoch to take over in the next reshuffle, reportedly telling allies he ‘knows where the bodies are’.

It came as it was revealed that A-level grades could be scrapped in a massive overhaul of the education system. It is understood the government is looking at possibly replacing the A*-E letter grades with a numerical system similar to GCSEs. 

At the same time, the proportion of students allowed to achieve the top grades will be reduced gradually over a period of years until it returns to pre-pandemic levels, meaning there could be years before proper exams return.

Such is the crisis over the number of top A-level grades being handed out – 44% of all entries were A or A* this year with critics saying they are slipping towards ‘meaninglessness’ – that more universities could demand applicants take bespoke university entry exams. 

Mr Williamson’s is said to be under threat with Ms Badenoch lined up, ‘multiple sources’ have told The Times. One said the minister is ‘wetting himself about getting the sack. He keeps telling people he knows where the bodies are and [the] PM is too weak to sack him.’ Some questioned whether this threat was genuine when yesterday he said he couldn’t remember his own A-level results.

Last year the ‘vultures were circling’ Mr Williamson over his handling of the A-level results chaos, a source said at the time, but after he survived they insisted Mr Williamson is a ‘master of finding someone else to chuck under a bus’. 

His price for leaving, however, is reported to be Jacob Rees-Mogg’s job as Commons leader, meaning he will stay in the Cabinet.

Before entering the Cabinet, Mr Williamson was the party’s Chief Whip and tried to cultivate a sinister image with veiled threats to rebellious Tory MPs – accompanied by his pet tarantula Cronus. He also famously was photographed with a whip on his desk.

His allies say this reputation as a master of the dark arts has counted against him ahead of the reshuffle, with No 10 imbuing false meaning to innocent remarks that have been distorted while being reported back to Downing Street.

The Williamson allies also claim to detect the hand of Mr Johnson’s wife, Carrie, in some of the mutterings against him, and her friend Kemi Badenoch is seen as a rising star with more women wanted at the cabinet table.

Ms Badenoch has been vocal in her concerns about the the woke-ification of British education.

Born in London to Nigerian parents, she has two degrees and worked in McDonald’s to support herself through her studies.    

She used a Commons speech to highlight the duty of schools to avoid political partisanship. She does not want white children being taught about ‘white privilege and their inherited racial guilt’.

‘Any school which teaches these elements of political race theory as fact, or which promotes partisan political views — such as defunding the police — without offering a balanced treatment of opposing views, is breaking the law,’ she said, adding that schools should not openly support ‘the anti-capitalist Black Lives Matter group’.

Labour has said the Government needs to ‘rethink’ its priorities after reports that A-levels could be changed to have numbered grades instead of letters.

Shadow education secretary Kate Green told BBC Radio 4’s Today: ‘I think that is just tweaking the system to get the Government out of a difficult story.

‘We shouldn’t be just playing around with the grading system here, we should be thinking about the quality of teaching and learning that children are receiving.

‘It is not even crossing my radar at the moment. There are so many other greater priorities after a year in which children and young people have seen immense disruption to their education.

‘I think Gavin Williamson needs to rethink his priorities and give the right support to children and young people.’

Ms Green said the problems of not having a standardised assessment system during the pandemic had been ‘starkly exposed’ by the gap in grades between private and state schools.

She said: ‘I think that was an inevitable consequence perhaps of the fact that the Government didn’t set down a clear standardised process early on last year and schools, therefore, were really awarding grades in very different ways.’ 

On a record-breaking day, it was announced that almost 45 per cent of A-level exams had been graded A or A* under the system of teacher assessments.

This was a big rise from the 39 per cent that received the top two grades last year – and a huge increase on the 25 per cent in 2019, the last time exams were run.

But at private schools, an astonishing 70 per cent of A-level entries by fee-paying pupils were graded A or A*. This compared with 42 per cent of entries at state academies, 39 per cent at comprehensives and 35 per cent at sixth form colleges. 

The growing disparity drew heavy criticism, with Labour claiming the gap between state and private results this year was the result of the ‘Williamson effect’.

One MP told The Telegraph that the growing attainment gap between state and private institutions was a ‘national disaster’.  

Gavin Williamson, who famously keeps a whip on his office desk, is reported to have warned that he ‘knows where the bodies are and [the] PM is too weak to sack him’ over the A-Level results chaos

Boris is said to favour Kemi Badenoch, his equalities minister who has been vocal in her concerns about the the woke-ification of British education. Williamson’s allies have previously claimed that Mr Johnson’s wife, Carrie, is against him

Gavin Williamson has been compared to ‘Stupid Boy’ Private Pike, played by Ian Lavender, and Frank Spencer, played by Michael Crawford

Girls take a 5-point lead over boys in battle for top grades 

 Girls have extended their lead over boys in the battle for top grades in this year’s A-levels.

A record 46.9 per cent of girls achieved an A grade or higher – 4.8 percentage points higher than boys on 42.1 per cent, figures for England, Wales and Northern Ireland show.

This widens the gender gap seen last year, when female students beat their male peers by 3.2 points.

Boys briefly took the lead in 2017 and 2018 after a long period in which girls had been ahead.

In maths, female students this year overtook their male counterparts for the first time in the number of A*s – with 29.1 per cent achieving the top grade, compared with 28.5 per cent of their male peers. 

Regulators said the pandemic may have hit boys harder, with girls performing better in coursework and more able to cope.

Jill Duffy, chief executive of exam board OCR, said: ‘Research has shown that girls tend to perform better in more continuous assessment, boys tend to pull it out of the bag, if you like, when they come to an exam.

‘But the pandemic has had wider impacts not just on education but also on mental health, and recent reports have suggested that has hit young men more than females.’

No data is given on students identifying as non-binary but ‘it is something exam boards are continuing to work to support in the future’, she added.

Critics have accused the government of allowing excessive grade inflation over the last two years to let A levels slip towards ‘meaninglessness’.

Robert Halfon, the Conservative chair of the education select committee, said that ‘a hard rock cake of grade inflation’ had been ‘baked into’ exam results. 

And Nick Hillman, a director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, warned that if A Levels became less useful in terms of selection then more universities could demand applicants take bespoke university entry exams.

Sir Kevan Collins said it is ‘undeniable’ that private schools have more resources than state schools, possibly leading to higher-than-average A-level grades this year.

The former catch-up tsar was asked on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme whether he thinks sending children to private school is an ‘act of great privilege’ or if it is justifiable.

He said: ‘I never criticise a parent for doing the best for their children. All parents are trying to do that. And all teachers I know believe in children and are pushing children to do the best they can.

‘It is undeniable though that some parents and some children and some schools have more resources and more opportunity with their children than others.

‘My agenda has always been how to give every child the very best education, and some of our schools and some of our children just aren’t receiving the support they need if we really believe in levelling up and in growing equality rather than inequality in our education system.’

An education expert has said it is ‘too early to tell’ why there is a widened gap between state and private schools’ A-level results this year.

Natalie Perera, chief executive of the Education Policy Institute, was asked by BBC Radio 4’s Today if the results reflected a ‘historic gap’, changes in grading or different ways of learning during the pandemic.

Ms Perera replied: ‘It is too early to tell, we just don’t have the data or evidence to be able to say definitively what’s driven the widening of the gap in results between independent and state schools.

‘I think it is likely to be a combination of all three factors you set out.’

She said pupils who had access to a computer and good broadband at home tended to do better, as did those with schools more able to provide equipment for home learning.

Ms Perera added: ‘It is likely that we are seeing some of those inequality gaps present themselves in the private and state school gap that we are seeing today.’

The Sutton Trust says that the pandemic has ‘compounded existing inequalities’ in the schools system

In a stark graph, it shows how the proportion of students getting an A or an A* has gone from 17.8% in 2000 to 44.8% this year

It has been reported that one solution being considered by the Department for Education is to ‘reset’ standards by scrapping the letter-based grades and moving to a numerical system. This happened to GCSEs in 2014 under reforms by then Education Secretary Michael Gove. 

Yesterday Gavin Williamson, the current Education Secretary, said that his department would be ‘looking at different measures’ to tackle grade inflation, adding: ‘There are a whole range of policy options we can look at.’

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘In terms of actually making sure there is a feeling and understanding of the difference between grading where we are currently and grading where we are in the future, that’s something we are looking at in great detail.’

A Department for Education source told the i newspaper that the idea was part of ‘discussions that are being had within the department’.

However, the paper was told that the process would be gradual, rather than ‘jolting back’ or a ‘sudden shock to the system’ that could impact unfairly on next year’s cohort.

But no matter what measures are in place for next year, regulator Ofqual and the department have confirmed plans for exams to be brought back. 

Any decision taken to tackle grade inflation is expected to be watched closely, as it is likely those taking exams in 2022 will face fierce competition for jobs and university places with the two pandemic-struck year groups that had gone before them.

It comes after a furious row erupted over A-level results last night after the gap between private and state pupils grew to its widest in the recent era.  

Campaigners said the widening gap risked creating an entrenched educational divide for years to come.

Critics has accused the government of allowing excessive grade inflation over the last two years to let A levels slip towards ‘meaninglessness’

Sir Peter Lampl of the Sutton Trust, which champions social mobility, said the results were a reflection of the pandemic ‘compounding existing inequalities’. 

And Robert Halfon, the Tory chairman of the Commons education committee, warned that the last year had been ‘nothing short of a national disaster for our disadvantaged pupils’.

As thousands of pupils picked up A-level results yesterday:

  • A high of 19.1 per cent were A* alone, up from 7.8 per cent in 2019;
  • 12,945 pupils in England got three A* grades – compared with 7,774 last year;
  • Girls grew their lead over boys in the battle for top grades;
  • Ucas figures showed a record number of students had been accepted on to UK degree courses. 
  • A total of 435,430 have had places confirmed, up 5 per cent on the same point last year;
  • In an illustration of the scramble for top university places, medical students are to be offered £10,000 to switch from over-subscribed schools;
  • Gavin Williamson triggered a row by suggesting universities shouldn’t be charging full fees if they fail to provide sufficient in-person teaching;
  • Pupils at an inner city state school were celebrating after 55 got the grades needed for them to study at Oxbridge;
  • The number of students from the EU coming to study in the UK plunged by more than 50 per cent in a year;
  • An Ofqual regulator suggested there would need to be a taper back into a normal exam system, with the Department for Education saying it would be a ‘glide path’.

The grade inflation came after exams were cancelled due to the pandemic and teachers decided grades instead.

Analysis by Ofqual found 70.1 per cent of grades at independent schools were at A or above, compared to 60.8 per cent in 2020 and just 44 per cent in 2019. 

While the rise for private schools this year was 9.3 percentage points, it was only 5.7 points for academies, which are the largest players in the state sector. 

Among other state providers, the jump was 3.8 points at sixth form colleges, 6.2 points at comprehensives, 6.6 points at free schools and 7.5 points at grammars.

The gap between private schools and academies is now 28.1 percentage points, compared with 24.6 points last year and 20.03 points in 2019.

Ofqual has only produced analysis of results by school type for the last three years, so no more historic comparisons can be made regarding the gap between private and English state schools.

However, data from the Independent Schools Council suggests private school performance relative to all schools in the whole of the UK is at a ten-year high. 

Private schools have 70.1 of entries scoring A and A* grades this year, compared with 45 per cent across the UK – a gap of 25.1 percentage points, which is the highest since 2011.

The Education Policy Institute think tank said: ‘Grades for [private school] students have historically been over-predicted on average and the nature of private schools means their teachers are more directly accountable to parents, increasing the risk of pressure to increase grades.’

But Barnaby Lenon, chairman of the Independent Schools Council, said the idea teachers had been pressured was ‘nonsense’ and insisted robust moderation measures had taken place.

Ofqual said checks by exam boards ‘did not find that any type of school or college was more likely than others to have provided grades that did not reflect the standard of their students’ work’.

Critics said the grade inflation masked huge education losses for pupils. 

Molly Kingsley, of parent group UsForThem, said: ‘While children do not deserve to be penalised for what has been an incredibly trying year, to award close to half of students the top grade devalues the currency of education.’

A Government source said it was not right to draw comparisons with previous years because Covid caused so much disruption. 

They stressed: ‘Children from all backgrounds who were targeting top grades have been successful’.

Additional reporting by Josh White and Elliot Mulligan 

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