On the 13th August 2020, students across the UK received their A-Level results. Results which were calculated by an algorithm. This algorithm was deemed necessary as students were unable to take their exams because of COVID-19. An algorithm that downgraded 39% of grades predicted by teachers. A-Level results day 2020 will be remembered as the day hundreds of thousands of students lost their university place because of an unfair system. A system which punished state school students and rewards private school students.
The decision to use the algorithm plunged A-Level results day 2020 into chaos from the moment students received their grades. In previous years students had been able to check results on UCAS track from around 6 AM. I had to wait until 8 AM and by that point the system was already crashing. It took me 40 minutes to find out if I had got my place at my university, by which point I was left waiting till the day after to find out if I had been officially affected by downgrading: I had. In two of my subjects I went down a grade with no explanation as to why. I count myself lucky, incredibly lucky, that I was accepted by my first choice university. Not everyone did, as downgrading has cost many students their future.
How did it go so wrong? Our government watched the disaster that was results day in Scotland. They had time to not repeat that mistake, to make A-Level results day less stressful for students in England. Instead the government, and particularly Education Secretary Gavin Williamson, fumbled and failed. The ‘triple lock’ system was designed to help students: if students are unhappy with their grades they can either sit an exam in Autumn or use their mock exam result. However, the triple lock has also failed. First the Department of Education has spoken about making sure mock results are “valid”. This is impossible. No one centre has the same process for mocks, in some subjects teaching hasn’t been completed before mocks. No one has yet to say what a “valid” mock is, so students are stuck in limbo.
Then there’s the even worse option: sitting an exam in Autumn. It is illogical to ask students to sit an exam in October when teaching finished in March. Many students had to either self-teach the rest of the course or finish with remote lessons, all the while during a global pandemic where no one person has the same at home situation. Take students who study a language (be it French, Spanish, German etc), time and resources are precious to maintain the skills needed for an exam. My language lessons stopped for the summer holidays. That is not the case for everyone. You can’t sit an exam in language that you’ve not had proper teaching in for months. The triple lock is nothing but a half-hearted way to try to avoid giving students their predicted grades (which has now happened in Scotland).
The real issue with the algorithm is that it has punished disadvantaged students and given private school students an even greater advantage. It is hardly surprising that this new system has benefited private school students but it is still heartbreaking to see. I did not go to a private school, but that does not make me inferior or less intelligent. That doesn’t mean it’s acceptable to lower my grades and the grades of my peers who also went to a state school. A-Level results have become a postcode lottery with the same privileged few hitting the jackpot.
It is hardly surprising that this new system has benefited private school students but it is still heartbreaking to see. I did not go to a private school, but that does not make me inferior or less intelligent. That doesn’t mean it’s acceptable to lower my grades and the grades of my peers who also went to state school. A-Level results have become a postcode lottery with the same privileged few hitting the jackpot.
At the beginning of this year I was excited but extremely nervous to sit my A-Levels. Two years of relentless study and sacrifice was about to end, but no-one could have foreseen this coronavirus pandemic. When I left college I couldn’t say a proper goodbye to teachers or friends. Results day was bound to be different this year, but it shouldn’t have been the catastrophe it was.
The government and Ofqual spent too much time digging their heels in the sand. Whilst the U-Turn is good news, with many students finally getting the grades they deserve it’s too little too late. Universities have already given out places, students accepted their second choice university, or others were told that their place will be saved for next year. So, what do those students do now? What does this mean for students in year 12?
This is where the problem lies with the government and Gavin Williamson, having dumped this problem onto students going to university. They still haven’t given clear guidance for students, teachers and universities on what comes next, having issued the U-Turn.
Gavin Williamson’s “apology” is poor to say the least. He is blaming Ofqual for a mistake he was responsible for. He should not be in this job, he has proven that he is not qualified for it. It is time for him to go.
I am proud of my generation for fighting for the grades they deserve, I am happy that GCSE students will have more clarity and their results day will, hopefully, be less stressful.
Worlds by Orla McAndrew
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