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A-Level Apocalypse: “I opened my results and cried”

Following the debacle of A-Level Results Day on August 13, 2020, Roar reached out to students and teachers across the UK to get their testimonies and thoughts. 

With the Covid-19 pandemic ongoing, A-Level students did not sit for exams this year. To help remedy this, The Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulations (Ofqual) introduced an algorithm to predict results with the help of mock examination grades. However, the corrective measures did not reap as many benefits as predicted, despite the lack of exams. In fact, Ofqual reported that almost 40% of teacher assessments were downgraded due to the algorithm. 

Students who have had their futures compromised took to Twitter to express their anger and frustration at how both Gavin Williamson, Secretary of State of Education, and the larger government have handled the affair. Protests were held at 10 Downing Street today, as the lack of a proper appeal apparatus puts thousands of students at risk of not being able to go to university in time. The PM responded to protests by insisting that the A-Level results are “robust” and “dependable for employers”.

A brief look through Ofqual’s report suggests that overall A-Level results in England are higher compared to 2019’s statistics. According to their report, the grading system and standardisation have not advantaged or disadvantaged students from different socio-economic backgrounds. However, Ofqual’s own analysis of grades according to centre types show that independent schools experienced a 4.7% increase in grades A and above, while similar grades only increased in secondary comprehensives and sixth forms by 2.0% and 0.3% respectively.

Furthermore, The Guardian also reported that the largest difference between students’ final grades and those predicted by teachers could be seen in the cases of students from the lowest socio-economic background. 

An 18-year-old student, who attended sixth-form in South London suburbs, spoke with Roar about their experience. Wishing to remain anonymous, they said: “When I received my results yesterday [13 August 2020], along with everyone, I never anticipated I would get the grades that I did. I joked with my friends how it would be funny if I got a D in any subject, but the reality was much worse than that.

“I was predicted a B in Psychology which was also my mock grade. However, I ended up with a U instead. Similarly, my A was downgraded to a B in Philosophy and Ethics. My English grade came out the way I wanted it to, so I’m pleased about that and by some miracle, my university accepted me. Despite being accepted into uni, given my heritage, it has been very mentally straining for me to explain to my parents that I got such low grades. I recognise that I was fortunate enough to get into university, but the government has failed so many others.”

They also told us that they felt disadvantaged merely due to the fact that they went to a state school. This points towards an obvious bias in the system and the government’s failure in refusing to acknowledge it. 

Other students were even unluckier. We spoke to Elizabeth Lamb, a 17-year-old student who went to a grammar school. She was downgraded from AAB to ABC and rejected from her dream university. She told Roar: “I opened my results and cried. I was lucky enough to get accepted into Nottingham University, which was my insurance, but I missed out on my first choice uni by one grade and didn’t get in. I got in contact with my school and they gave me the Centre Assessment Grades that they entered. 

“I was given AAB by my school, which would have got me into my dream course and dream university with a grade to spare. Instead, I ended up with an A in Classics, B in English Lit and C in Politics. My head of year called me after I submitted a request to talk to a teacher and see what happened and he, too, was upset for me. When I called the University of Edinburgh, they told me they were unable to accept me unless I got AAB, but that they will be keeping my place until September 7.”

She also added: “I feel being at a grammar school was of advantage, but the fact that my classes were large and I was in a year of 226 wasn’t of advantage to me.”

Elizabeth’s testimony point towards the fact that schools have been trying to help students as much as they can. Teachers are just as unhappy with the downgrading of students’ grades, as they feel their expertise was ignored.

Miss Roberts, a teacher at a city comprehensive in an area of high social deprivation, told us that her school is currently in “rapid improvement”, meaning that previous results are poor but are improving. Her school is likely to be affected massively by the new measures.

She feels disheartened at the lack of trust the government has put in educators, stating: “I think after months of the government and the media damning and criticising teachers during the lockdown, this is the final straw for lots of us. What Gavin Williamson said essentially, is that he doesn’t trust teachers. He claimed in an interview with This Morning that teachers would have inflated their grades (which even if that did happen, wouldn’t be worse than lowering them via a computer who doesn’t know the student). The lack of empathy and compassion from the government in handling this has sadly not been shocking but has been disgraceful.

“The ‘triple lock system’ is a waste of time. Mocks aren’t actually a requirement and every school does them differently, some walk the students through them, others only do part of the paper whereas some do them more strictly.”

She also went on to discuss the impacts of downgraded results on students from low-income families or lower socio-economic conditions. According to her, “it is of course not surprising them that independent private schools haven’t had their grades dropped. They are widening an already huge gap between those students and the most disadvantaged that we as teachers in those schools have been trying to close. They are sending the message to future generations of young people in schools like ours that they will never achieve and are somehow defined by their postcode rather than their work ethic and achievements.

“Also, the cost of appealing – in the past, our school has had to cherry-pick which few students we can afford to appeal on the behalf of, thanks to years of funding cuts, this year I imagine there will be more students wanting (and deserving) appeals than ever before; and who is footing that bill?”

The cost of requesting a preliminary stage appeal will be £111.75, increasing to £186.15 if it progresses to a hearing. The high cost of appeal will only advantage students who can afford it. Furthermore, students are having to appeal grades that do not fully reflect their ability. This has been the reality for thousands of students who took A-Levels in England, North Ireland, and Wales. However, the board extends out of the UK, and students abroad have felt ignored throughout the whole process. Cambridge Assessment International Education (CAIE) is responsible for conducting International A-Levels and International GCSE exams across the world.

A Somali student from the United Arab Emirates, who wished to remain anonymous, also spoke to us and expressed her frustration: “I feel angry and betrayed. CAIE seemed to solve the problem for students in the UK but forgot about us candidates worldwide. I feel as though the chances of my appeal getting accepted will be very low since I live in the UAE.”

They also feel that even if they do appeal and get their grades upgraded, it won’t be in time for them to go to university. They will be disadvantaged, as they cannot afford to pay international fees and are ineligible for scholarships with their current grades.

Students and teachers both inside and outside the UK are unhappy with how the government and the CAIE have handled the pandemic and the announcing of results. Students across the United Kingdom including York and Liverpool have also declared protests alongside those in London. The only appeal to universities is to not look at the final grades predicted by the algorithm. These grades are not proper indications of students’ work as they do not take into account their potential. In contrast, teachers’ grades are perfect indications of students’ grades,  given that they have worked with students for at least two years now.

As for students: do not grow disheartened – you’re not alone. University students, other A-Level and GCSE students, parents, and teachers all stand with you in solidarity against the unfair grading system robbing their fellows, children, and pupils of that which they desire more and rightfully deserve.

Writer at Roar News.


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