This A-Level results day, working class teenagers have been let down the most

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  • The number of students getting A or A*'s is up by 2.4%, but 39% of grades have been lowered

    You’ll remember the stomach-turning, anxiety-filled hours leading up to the life-changing moment you got your results. It’s an unforgettable day for many, and decides the course of your life.

    Today marks A-level results day in the UK. And just like you did all those years ago, many teens have been bursting to find out how they fared.

    Only, this year is different. Thanks to coronavirus and the havoc it wreaked on society, final year students didn’t get to take their exams. Instead, these students’ futures were left in the hands of an algorithm. Teachers were asked to submit predicted grades and, following that, results were left in the hands of an Ofqual algorithm.

    If teenagers aren’t happy with the algorithm’s choice, they can use their mock results. As a last resort, they can also sit the exams in the autumn. This three-pronged approach promises students a magnitude of options but fails to mask the fact that the supposedly ‘fair’ algorithm has left nearly 40% of students with lower grades than they were predicted.

    If you’re interested to know how students fared, at first glance, it appears positive. The number of A-Level students getting A or A* grades increased by 2.4%. But, as above, the deficit created by the algorithm means a shocking 39% of pupils received lower grades than predicted. Numerically, 330,000 of the A-Levels awarded today are lower than teachers’ estimations.

    It’s interesting to consider the results from a class angle – sadly, stats indicate that working-class and disadvantaged students have been hit the hardest. Take the figures: 85% of low socio-economic status students were predicted to achieve a C or above. In reality, only 74.6% achieved this – a drop of 10.4%. Compare this to students from the least deprived backgrounds, and you notice a difference: 81% were given grades of C and above.

    One labour MP Peter Kyle tweeted: “This is a ‘levelling down’ govt. ‘A’s up by 4.7% in private schools, 0.3% in sixth form collages. Locally, ‘U’s increased by 3x in one school and 66% of teacher assessments downgraded in another. Aspirations crushed, hard work ignored, social mobility destroyed.”

    Larissa Kennedy, president of the National Union of Students (NUS) called the results “racist and classist”, sharing that the system represented “educational inequality”.

    She tweeted: “Congrats to those getting results today. Due to a classist, racist moderation system, not everyone will receive the grades they deserve.”

    Students studying

    As a result, she’s launched a petition to demand fair grades, which states: “We saw how in Scotland the system meant that students from wealthier backgrounds, studying in wealthier areas had their results downgraded less than others. This is unacceptable.”

    The knock-on effect lower grades can have on future opportunities is colossal. For the many who were awarded grades lower than expected, they’ll likely be faced with the arduous task of finding a university through clearing. Even if they do decide to go through clearing, there’s no real guarantee that they’ll even get into a university. Current reality aside, the grades they were given today will change their lives forever.

    One parent, Sally*, whose son received his results today, says: “Neither my son or I slept last night. I can’t emphasize the stress that this has caused our family—no results should be left in the hands of an algorithm. It’s just not fair.”

    She went on to criticise the government and their ‘last-minute’ approach to the results, adding: “Perhaps if they’d had a clearer strategy from the get-go, this could have been avoided and the thousands of students who have been let down, wouldn’t have been.”

    While many might encourage students to retake in the autumn, for many this isn’t a viable option. Schools aren’t open until September, and private tutoring isn’t financially feasible or easily accessible for the majority.

    For many of the nation’s pending undergraduates who may have had their dream of attending the university of choice crushed today, the government has some answering to do.

     

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