Futures sacrificed for the sake of statistics

As academics working across a range of English universities, we are writing to express our dismay at the fiasco that is this year’s A-level and Btec results.

The algorithm used by Ofqual, following the government’s decision not to use teacher assessed grades, has reduced students’ A-level grades by, in some instances, two or three boundaries. We have seen students predicted ABC grades awarded CDE, and students predicted BBC awarded DDE. Both of these students were at a state sixth-form college, with a good range of passes at GCSE.

In a vanishingly small number of cases, grades have been moved upwards by a boundary, although it is private schools that have mainly benefited from this, with the number of A* and A grades awarded in this sector increasing by 4.75% this year. Ofqual’s decision to give more weight to predicted grades where students were in a smaller cohort seems to have directly benefited private schools at the cost of larger state schools and further education colleges. This is not the “levelling up” that the government promised would be a keystone of its administration.

In recent days we have witnessed the anxiety, distress and anger this has caused among university applicants. Those at the sharp end of this process are overwhelmingly teenagers who have already lost months of education, and are now, in some cases, seeing their hopes and dreams for the future disappear.

We trust our colleagues who teach A-level and Btec courses, and who prepare their students to enter university. We trust them far more than an Ofqual algorithm. We call on the government to immediately reinstate predicted grades for A-level and Btec students.
Prof Lucy Noakes University of Essex
Prof Julie Anderson University of Kent
Prof Catriona Beaumont London South Bank University
Prof Brad Beaven University of Portsmouth
Prof Bob Brecher University of Brighton
Dr Justin Colson University of Essex
Prof Martin Evans University of Sussex
Dr Cath Feely University of Derby
Dr Alix Green University of Essex
Prof Claire Langhamer University of Sussex
Dr Edward Madigan Royal Holloway, University of London
Dr Katrina Navickas University of Hertfordshire
Dr Daisy Payling University of Essex
Prof Catriona Pennell University of Exeter
Dr Andrew Priest University of Essex
Prof Lucy Robinson University of Sussex
Dr Chris Smith Coventry University
Dr Lisa Smith University of Essex
Peter Stanfield University of Kent
Dr Jon Watson University of Brighton

My daughter is one of the 280,000 who had their predicted grades lowered. She had studied for many years, got impressive GCSE results (just three years after we moved to the UK) and outstanding predicted grades that secured a conditional offer from King’s College London. Then there was coronavirus, the government cancelled the exams, and she was given some random results. She studied for four A-levels and completed the EPQ. All but one have been downgraded. King’s College simply cancelled the offer.

In the days since, my daughter has spent her time crying, being catatonic and screaming. It is just like the loss of a loved one. After studying hard for many years, after spending four months practically jailed at home, after waiting to receive the random results, she is now lost. She did not even try to look at clearing, she was too devastated to do it.

She was deprived of showing her value via these exams, and she was judged without the right to a defence. At 18 years old, her future has been destroyed by an algorithm. My daughter will not go to a UK university this year. Maybe she will recover, maybe she will decide to study in a country where the education secretary thought about the students, their education and mental health, not just the statistics.
Name and address supplied

Has it escaped this government’s notice that every last student assessed for A-level and GCSE exams this year will be eligible to vote at the next election? And, for good measure, most students have two parents. Just do the maths, prime minister.
David Druiff

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