A-Level Results: Limited Hope for State School Student Voice
Students across the country have received their A-Level results but thousands of students were given lower grades than expected. Amber Sunner talks to state-school educated aspiring journalists to see how they are feeling.
When this years exams were cancelled because of the Covid-19 pandemic, grades were pinned on teachers predictions, mock grades and classwork. That is until the government used an algorithm is re-evaluate those grades, which were released to A-level students on 13 August causing uproar. Education Minister Nick Gibb revealed that nearly 40% of student grades had been “adjusted” during the standardisation of the important marks. The algorithm which determined final grades involved standardisation from exam boards and The Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual).
However, the results have been heavily uncriticised as being “unfair”. On Monday, a public outcry over Scotland secondary school qualification results lead to a government u-turn. This move by the Scottish government meant 75,000 pupils have their grades upgraded. Some are calling for the same in England.
Jessica Sharkey, 18 from Teeside was downgraded from a predicted A* to an overall A in English Literature and a predicted A to an overall B in English Language. She said that this downgrade makes her feel “annoyed” because of her dreams of going into journalism. She feels that her final grades didn’t reflect the work she did to achieve her predicted grades. Jessica will be attending News Associates’ School Of Journalism in September..
Ofqual reported that private schools in England saw the biggest rise in top A-level grades. This could be an indicator that the algorithm used to determine students’ grades is classist. The statistics indicate that 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%.
Larissa Kennedy, president of the National Union of Students (NUS) called the results “racist and classist” in a tweet, sharing that the system represented “educational inequality”.
Yasmin Walker, 18 from Leeds hopes to get into journalism after receiving her A-level results. She told PressPad that the results being downgraded have stopped some of her friends from getting into university. “The government definitely needs to address this,” she says. Yasmin brands the situation “ridiculous” but adds that it was also a waiting game. She references the Scotland U-turn on grade decisions saying: “You never know how these things will play out.”
Not all the aspiring journalists we spoke to were negatively impacted by the situation. Orla McAndrew, 18 from Leeds said that she feels “incredibly lucky” that the downgrading didn’t affect her progression to her first choice university. She believes that the downgrading is “punishing those in disadvantaged areas”. “I just hope [the government] do the right thing and give students the grades they deserve,” she says. Orla hopes that being a part of the ‘Covid-generation’ will help to amplify the voices of the people like her. “I hope the older generations will see that our voices matter.”
Caitlin Farrell, 18 from South London was pleased to receive the grades she needed to study English at Cambridge University but she is still concerned about future prospects. She says is worried about how job applications were going to be viewed in the future because of the adjusted system. She also shares the view that the government needs to address the workings of the grading system. “While I don’t hold out a lot of hope for students, especially state school students, being listened to, I do think the government needs to consider our perspective.” Caitlin remains hopeful that the ‘Covid-generation’ will be viewed with sympathy because of the sacrifices they have made and the lack of support they were met with.
Meanwhile, Katie Coles, 19 from London says her school in Hackney has “taken a blow” regarding its A-level results. She explains that the school was in a state of confusion over appeals and retakes leaving many students in the dark. Katie was retaking an A-level this year and explained how she was the only student out of all of the retakes that achieved their teacher assessed grades. She adds that some got the exact same grades as last year. The lack of transparency from Ofqual is “frustrating” according to Katie.