A Level Chaos from Z Level Government

Where now for Somerset students? Sam Booker Taunton Labour Party ‘inundated with distraught emails’..

The Government’s chaotic handling of yesterday’s A Level results has caused hurt and outrage across the country. Students are feeling let down, parents are worried about the impact on their children, teachers are angry about the way its been handled and councillors are being contacted by distressed young people. Labour leader Keir Starmer said “Across the country tens of thousands of young people opened their results full of hope, only to see their hopes for the future dashed. Amidst chaos and last-minute decisions from the UK Government, nearly 40% of A-level grades have been marked down. Todays figures also reveal that inequality has been baked in to the system. Students from disadvantaged backgrounds have been disproportionately affected by downgrades and students from independent schools have seen top grades disproportionately rise. We’re fighting for the future of every student and calling on the Government to urgently right what is set to be a historic wrong. “

Sam Booker, vice chair of Taunton Labour Party says that as President of the Student Union at Exeter College, he has been inundated with distraught emails from A-Levels students across Devon, and Somerset. “Reliable students who I know give 110% in lessons and home study, have been downgraded to Cs and Ds despite averaging Bs and As throughout the academic year. It is absolutely outrageous that the government has instructed exam boards to calculate exam results based primarily on Postcode and Attendance, rather than Teacher Grade and Average Assessment Grade. This has put disadvantaged students firmly in the firing line. It’s also important to remember that first year students who attend colleges which run an AS Level scheme in order to progress onto second year, such as myself, have been equally effected. Personally, living within Somerset and attending college in Exeter has meant I have had to rely on West Somerset’s notoriously poor bus links and GWR trains which hardly ever run on time. As such, my attendance took a massive hit towards the end of the shortened academic year as COVID-19 began to slow our public infrastructure. This has meant, despite averaging at least a B in all my subjects, the government has taken my postcode and attendance and somehow determined that I only did enough to pass 1 of my 3 chosen subjects, meaning I am unable to progress onto second year.”

Government by Algorithm

Sam continues “Whilst what has happened to me is frustrating, many A-Level students have been hit harder and have missed out on places at top universities as a result, potentially effecting their career paths and ultimately, the rest of their lives. The fact that this Conservative Government, despite calling itself the ‘people’s government’ has discriminated against the most vulnerable young people in our society, is outrageous. Education Minister Gavin Williamson defended the algorithm yesterday, saying it ‘protects young people from entering jobs that they are not equipped to carry out’. I, like many young and experienced people alike, find that comment rather ironic.”

Sedgemoor Labour Leader Brian Smedley

Sedgemoor Labour Leader Cllr Brian Smedley (Bridgwater Westover) says “The Labour Party is urging people to send a message to the Education Minister, Gavin Williamson, to make him aware of the hurt being felt around the country. No young person should be put at a disadvantage due to Government incompetence.  Keir Starmer has urged ministers to follow the lead of Scotland and allow teacher assessed marks to be accepted in England.  The Tories seem to run everything on populist algorithms these days. The affect  in terms of these results seems to be that the schools that usually do well got marked up and the schools that don’t got marked down -thereby disproportionately punishing the less affluent. Areas with significant deprivation levels, comprehensive schools and Sixth Form Centres  have all seen a disproportionate down grading. Young people’s futures are being dictated and decided by an algorithm and a Government that perpetuates inequality, rewarding privilege and penalising the already disadvantaged.” 

County Labour Leader Leigh Redman (Bridgwater South)

County Labour Leader Cllr Leigh Redman (Bridgwater South) says “I am really concerned for the mental wellness of those impacted by this appalling situation. Young adults have been under so much pressure and added to the Covid lockdown this will not help them in anyway. Another example of an ill thought out policy developed on the run. I will say that there is always an option for those impacted so stay strong & never to give up.”

Julie Cordiner (Victoria)

Bridgwater Teachers and Labour Councillors have also expressed outrage.

Cllr Julie Cordiner (Bridgwater Victoria) adds “These results expose the terrible inequalities in the country, the south east and London have seen their results rising, yet those from poorer neighbourhoods and areas have been downgraded, once again it is the working class who are bearing the brunt of COVID.”

Cllr Alexia Bartlett (Dunwear)

Cllr Alexia Bartlett (Bridgwater Dunwear) a teacher of A level at a local college, says “The Government’s recent change to the system of ‘A’ level assessment has been nothing short of abysmal. The expertise of teachers has been completely devalued by the unjust and incomprehensible reduction of subject grades and consequently, thousands of students nationally have suffered. Across the board, this reduction has been aimed at secondary schools, academies and sixth form colleges, whilst independent and smaller schools have received a disproportionate rise in top grades. This is blatant discrimination. It is a biased and unjustified action suggesting qualifications are now based on postcode and affluence, not ability. Potentially, highly knowledgeable and hard-working students, completely committed to their subjects, have had their future plans stolen away by a skewed, unfair and inscrutable system. Furthermore, the offer of autumn exams as a means to improving grades is no valid solution: How will these exams be actually conducted? How will students take a full set of exams in several subjects after 6 months away from school or college? Are teachers expected to lead students through further preparation for these and if so, how will this be practicable given existing teaching responsibilities? In addition, Ofqual’s appeals system is as arcane as the system of assessment, remaining a mystery not only to students, but also to schools and colleges up and down the country. If Tory ministers do not respond positively to Labour’s call for an urgent review of this exam debacle, it will be further evidence of the ineptitude and nepotism of our current government.”

Somerset Head Teacher Speaks Out

Dave MacCormick, a Chard Headteacher, wrote to his Tory MP Marcus Fysh (Yeovil)  saying “Holyrood Academy exists to drive social justice and social mobility within our community: to allow young people to open doors that may otherwise be closed to them.  They are empowered to achieve their very best and encouraged to work their hardest to get what they deserve.  This method of allocating grades has destroyed that link between hard work and success and has instead replaced it with grades determined by historical performance of others like you – but not you.  I urge you in the strongest possible terms to use your voice on behalf of your constituents to secure a review of the Government’s strategy for grade awards at A-Level and ahead of GCSE results next week.  The only fair outcome is for all young people to receive their CAG as the use of mock results brings further inconsistency and unfairness.”  

Fysh (who was privately educated at Winchester College and then went on to Oxford) may not however be the best person to appreciate how the policies of his government might be letting the state system down……

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