A-levels and fuck the Tories

I dislike this Tory government. I've disliked every Tory government I've encountered either through lived experience or learning from the past. But it's not just dislike that defines my feelings of the Conservatives, it's also respect. I respect their democratic right to leadership and I respect their abilities as grown-ass, adult politicians to run the country.

Back in March it was rightly announced that GCSE and A level examinations would not go ahead. "Great," I thought, "they're doing the right thing." The logical next questions are what are we going to do about their results? and how are we going to assess them?

The obvious answer (to me, anyway) is the teachers should work on guidelines provided by DfE and/or Ofqual to create Centre Assessed Grades. This was announced. "Great," I thought, "they're doing the right thing." I had confidence that no government would intentionally do wrong by the youth of the country. Maybe there'd be a second look from external assessors---but I thought this was mostly put to bed. As I had confidence in the government to handle this situation, I had confidence and trust in the teachers to be the qualified professionals they are and give their students the grades they deserve. And I had confidence that the government would in turn have confidence in those qualified professionals.

I think you can see now that I had misplaced my trust and my confidence and my respect.

Results day. Thursday 13th August 2020. Students received grades below what they were predicted by their teachers in 40% of cases. 2% were increased. The most disadvantaged students were most affected.

So what happened? Why were the qualified teaching professionals, who had known these students for up to 7 years, being ignored?

It's all down to Gavin Williamson's "fair" and "robust" algorithm to calculate the final grades. So let's dig into how this algorithm works.

Teachers were asked to use mock exam data and class performance to predict how well every student would do on exam day --- on a good exam day what grade could a student achieve? These were the Centre Assessed Grades (CAGs). The algorithm was first fed the CAGs, then rankings from teachers of all students in each subject, and finally passed through a standardisation process to attempt to reduce any inconsistencies in pessimistic/optimistic grading.

In order to smooth out the data, this standardisation process used historical performance data from each school or college. This means that if a centre had received 10 A*s previously, that centre would distribute 10 A*s this year; and if a centre had 3 U grades previously, that centre would distribute 3 U grades this year. This, regardless of the ability of the individuals in the year group.

(An exception to this existed if a student attended a centre with small class sizes as the "ironing out" wasn't accurate with smaller numbers.)

The result is that Ofqual put more emphasis on this statistical "ironing out" than they did on teachers' predictions. So to break it down: if a student studied their butt off at a disadvantaged school with large classes and a history of poor grades, they were never going to be able to achieve what they deserve. That hard working student was capped at previous students' achieved results; in other words, that hard working student received a past student's result.

What does this teach this generation? Why should this generation work hard if when they do they are treated like a statistic? Why should this generation work hard if when they do they are punished by the government that is supposed to for them? Does this government care about us at all? Should we respect them at all?

From too close to home I've heard the arguments that this A level debacle teaches students about the "harsh realities of life"---and that once you've moved on from A levels, nobody cares anymore. That these harsh realities of life exist, and if you go on to university, people probably won't care about your A level grades.

But that isn't the reality for everybody. We are not statistics. We are not the average of humans past. We cannot live our lives by an algorithm. And you know what? Life is harsh---but why make it harsher for people? Other peoples' successes don't discredit your success.

Gavin Williamson said that if we didn't use the algorithm it would "devalue the results for the class of 2020". I disagree. We'll never know which students would have had a bad day on the day, so why try to figure it out?

This year has been hard enough.


So they u-turned. After almost a week of defending the system and ignoring the heart-breaking stories of thousands of students, they finally u-turned. This is not what we deserve as a country at this time and this certainly isn't what the hard working A level students deserve. They have been denied their heartfelt apology. It may be cynical, but was this change of tack a PR move to halt the tidal wave of discontent and dissatisfaction being hurled in the government's direction? No matter the reason, thank God they did.