The Government may have taken it up A-level, but there are still problems on the horizon – Labour Article
On the day that 718,000 pupils in England alone received their A-level results, nearly 40% found their grades lower than their expected marks given by teachers. Following a similar issue in Scotland, I was trying to remain hopeful that the government would have done everything in their power to avoid the embarrassment of having to make a similar U-turn.
I was hopeful of this, not for the sake of the government, but for the hundreds of thousands of pupils who would otherwise end up disappointed. Unfortunately, my hope was misplaced.
These weren’t just small drops in grades either. Some pupils saw a drop of around 6 grades from both their predicted and mock results. This meant that in some instances, there was no personal historical data to support the final grades given.
One argument that I’ve seen in response is that 96.4% of results were the same as or within one grade of the teacher’s own assessments. However, it’s far too easy to disregard how many students 3.6% represents. That percentage equates to around 25,000 people; this is highly significant.
Even the pupils who fall within that 96.4% may still have had their A-Level grades dropped. One grade being dropped could be the difference between meeting the grades for your favoured university and falling short.
This year’s A-level results are not the first results related to scandal this summer. IB results, released in early July, caused a similar uproar by producing grades for many that were wildly off of what they had been predicted and what they had attained over their course.
What these results have in common is that algorithms using “historical data” have been used in order to provide results for individual pupils. This data, however, focuses less on the individual and instead takes into account their school’s previous attainment record as well as how accurate that school’s prediction record is.
This poses significant methodological issues, such as the fact that statistical moderation will favour smaller class sizes, typically seen in private schools, compared to larger cohorts. This barely scratches the surface though. The notion of applying an impersonal algorithm to something as personal as exam results is an incredibly short-sighted and unfair proposition. It validates the idea that your future should be decided by arbitrary and collectivistic probabilities. This removes individualism and confines you within conditions you have no control over.
Fundamentally, it is based on the idea that someone vaguely in your socio-economic position may have performed differently. The subsequent assumption is that you as an individual will have performed differently. The fact that private school students saw the greatest increase in grades A and above is evidence of this.
Additionally, students from the North East saw the second smallest increase in top grades despite being the only region to report an increase in the previous year. It is very hard to justify these statistics when it is so clearly a way to disadvantage students from less affluent backgrounds. This is not to say that no students from private schools or more affluent areas have been hard done by, but it’s very clear which demographics have been hit hardest by these results.
Perhaps you are wondering at this point how this year compares to other years. But this year is fundamentally incomparable with other years. Previously, many pupils will also have been disappointed by their results. But in those instances, they at least had the benefit of being judged as individuals off the back of their own work. Not as statistics. If there was no way for the government and Ofqual to better personalise the A-Level grades that they produced, then surely it would have been better to give pupils the benefit of the doubt.
Gavin Williamson disagreed, arguing that boosting grades would cause pupils to “lose out both in their education and future prospects”. This is a weak argument. Firstly, for pupils going to university, they will soon work out whether they are “losing out” themselves. They certainly shouldn’t have that opportunity taken away from them.
Secondly, for the pupils who are looking to go straight into work, employers (rightly so) generally take into account much more than A-level results. It’s pretty unlikely that they’ll be thrust into jobs entirely beyond their capabilities. That is unless the Department for Education was looking to upgrade its head in the near future.
Either way, Williamson’s justification for these disappointing results was equally disappointing; it only showed his own disdain for and lack of understanding of today’s youth. Similarly, his “Triple lock” policy does very little to bring comfort to the pupils who woke up completely unaware of how to proceed. Appealing to receive a “valid mock exam grade” provides no certainty whatsoever. Resitting exams in October is also not a fair alternative, preventing pupils from attending university until September 2021.
This hasn’t been a good look for the government. According to a YouGov poll, 74% of respondents felt some level of sympathy towards A-level students who had been downgraded. Who knows how much of an effect this will have on the Conservatives in the polls in the long term? Nonetheless, it’s good that the government followed Scotland and undid the injustice that has been inflicted on its pupils.
This has not solved the issue, however. Whilst it is undoubtedly more positive that students will be awarded their Centre Assessed Grades, new problems are on the horizon. In this new scenario, students may still miss out. Due to many universities offering far more places to students than were available, many places have now been given away. Cambridge, for example, is telling some students that they will have to defer until next year due to “capacity issues”.
Other problems include the fact that many pupils will have applied for university on results day through clearing, subsequently taking the place of someone else who missed out. This will create further “capacity issues” as pupils with updated grades will suddenly be looking to accept the place they were initially promised. But this place may no longer exist. Not to mention the fact that many pupils may also have accepted a place at a different university following their results, creating even more stress for them.
Written by Junior Labour Writer, Jack Rolfe
Point of Information
The UK education System perpetuates classism – A Conservative Response
Jack’s article raises an extremely important point. The education system is being used to perpetuate discrimination against those from lower socio-economic backgrounds. It once again provides the elite with the upper hand. It is unjust. It is a disgrace. But unfortunately, I am hardly surprised.
The education system in the UK has targeted students from low-income families ever since I can remember. An example being the remarking of GCSE’s and A-levels. The remarking of exams has been a financial gamble for students that many cannot afford to take.
AQA, one of the most popular exam boards, charges students £43.95 per component to be remarked, upping the charge to £51.57 for priority marking. This charge is excessive. I myself had a GCSE exam remarked as I was one mark below my predicted grade. When the newly marked exam came back, I had been bumped up by 7 marks! Whilst this is a personal anecdote, this just goes to show how unreliable the examiners can be with their marking. However, more importantly, it displays the opportunities that students from low-income families miss out on.
Like Jack, I agree that Gavin Williamson’s argument is weak. It is ridiculous to say that boosting grades would cause pupils to ‘lose out both in their education and future prospects.’ The standard of a university education cannot be compared to the education that many secondary students receive.
I myself attended a school that was poorly rated by Ofsted. I did not achieve the grades that I needed to get into university. However, since attending my current institution, I have excelled due to the high standard of teaching. To assume that students from low ranked schools would not be capable of keeping up with their peers is classist.
Jack highlights the issue of capacity since Gavin’s U-turn. The Education Secretary has created absolute chaos and many will still lose out on their university places. It is too late to ‘fix’ things. This just goes to show how detrimental an education system that is rooted in classism is to students.
Quite frankly, had I been amongst the 2020 A-level cohort, I would not be at either of the universities that I had applied for. The postcode of my school would have dropped my grades significantly; I would not have stood a chance.
The Conservative Government has made a grave mistake.
Written by Guest Conservative Writer, Rebecca Selt
Government goes from bad to worse – A Liberal Response
I actually love Jack’s article here, I agree with everything he says. I think the main thing that should be understood from this is the negligence of using generalised information to judge individuals. How can the overall performance of a school determine that of an individual within it? A more personal assessment and prediction of the student’s capability was needed, not a generalised ruthless algorithm.
I do want to further note some injustices we saw from the system that was used. So many private schools benefited from this algorithm. Private schools saw a rise on their averages by 4.3%, secondary comprehensive 2% and Sixth forms, further education and tertiary colleges shifted 0.3%.
To give an example, Our Ladies Abingdon, a private school in Oxfordshire, boasted about their 12% buff on A-level grades this year! How has this been done fairly at all, like seriously?
My other concern is actually with the teachers themselves. Whatever you may say, they do massively overpredict their students’ grades. They have unfortunately caused this mess, either to help their students or to make sure they reach their own grade targets. Selfish or not, it has hurt their students and the decision to hand out grades based on teachers’ predictions actually makes this problem worse. Now, in some cases, we will see students with massively overexaggerated grades. We need to, to some extent, shift some of the blame on teachers.
However, most of this failure should be blamed on the government; their woeful decisions to not only use this algorithm but to then go back on it has ultimately caused this.
Written by Senior Liberal Writer, Max Anderson