The results disaster: has the government done enough?

Our writers pick up the pieces after the A-level results fiasco

multiple writers
31st August 2020
Yet another government U-turn this year. They really are sticking with the driving theme, aren’t they? You know, Barnard Castle and all that.

This latest U-turn, which was as always proceeded with promises that they’ll be no such U-turn, has seen them go back on the A-level results algorithm. The algorithm caused almost 40% of grades in England to be downgraded, inflicting unprecedented (there’s 2020’s buzzword again) disappointment, stress and anxiety upon the already emotionally panicked student population.

Have they done enough to atone for their colossal error? Considering the approval rating is at an 8 month low, I'm going to go with no.

Firstly, Williamson is somehow still in his job as Secretary for Education, despite offering his resignation. This is, in my opinion, the perfect piece of symbolism of the contempt this government holds the public in. For someone's judgement to be that wrong and to oversee a crisis like this and have no repercussions is a disgrace- however unsurprising. Imagine if Barcelona didn’t face the music after their 8-2 defeat, it would be astonishing. Imagine if the Barcelona manager actually oversaw multiple 8-2 defeats in 8 months, and then claimed in the press they weren’t 8-2 defeats at all and that the tactics he deploys are ‘robust’. Except it’s not a football coach in this scenario, it’s the Secretary of State for Education, responsible for the futures of a generation. Leadership, accountability and competence aren’t in this government's vocabulary. 

Secondly, BTECs and vocational courses by certain exam boards have been completely disregarded. Almost a week on, some students are still waiting for their results, putting their next move and future in limbo. I’m sure many of us here have friends in apprenticeships who needed these qualifications to be able to get themselves an apprenticeship or onto their course. This is a government which included in their 2019 manifesto a promise to increase apprenticeships. It seems like it would be pretty hard to do that when you were planning on closing the door on student's pathways into said apprenticeship.

Worst until last, is the fact there was a clear class divide in results. Whether the government U-turned or not is irrelevant in my opinion, as such blatant classism was on display. Sixth forms and further education colleges saw a 0.3% increase in A grades and above, whilst independent- or private schools in layman's terms- saw a 4.7% increase. No amount of ‘apologies’ can ever hide this. As someone who went to a sixth form college last year, it disheartens me to think the government doesn’t value the brilliant, talented and dedicated teachers in sixth forms like mine, as much as it does those in private schools, although again, it is unsurprising. This is a government who won many working-class seats in last years election - these students are those voters' children. The government should remember that. 

Any apology has not nearly been enough, and students and parents alike should hold the government with in the same contempt it has shown held them in, until meaningful apologies are made. Gavin Williamson going should just be the start. 

Thomas Dickson

The U-turn came days after many students were given much lower grades than expected, changing their future career choices entirely. I worry for the students who continue to feel like a failure because of an algorithm that does not reflect their potential. The impact of results day, both GCSE and A-level, on a young person’s mental health must not be underestimated.

The pressure on young people to achieve academically is higher than ever before. Being considered a failure, without even having the chance to prove yourself, could cause lasting trauma for the class of 2020.

Although a good amount of students have gotten into their first choices, the Education Secretary’s statement that people should not be promoted ‘beyond their competence’ limits the dreams of young people, especially those of a lower social class or a BAME background. The statement made by Gavin Williamson disregards the fact that university is a place to build on skills, competences, and confidence. As someone whose A-level results turned out to be somewhat average and as someone who came from a school in a disadvantaged area, am I promoted beyond my competence when I now achieve a first on average at a Russell Group university? I am surely not the only example of a student whose confidence and results dipped at A-level, only to rise again in Higher Education.

Not to mention the lack of attention paid to BTEC students. All Level 3 BTEC students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland were due to receive their results on the same day as A-level students but the Pearson examination board has admitted there has been a significant delay. With university spaces filling up, particularly after the A-level U-turn, BTEC students cannot help feeling forgotten about by the current government. For certain degrees, BTECs are as important, if not more important than A-levels. Coming from a school where many of my peers sat BTECs and have gone on to start degrees or internships as social workers, engineers and scientists, I empathise with the fury of the students who don’t have any results yet and are expecting an algorithm to badly predict their grades because the U-turn policy does not apply to them.

However, I am inclined to believe that the sacking of Gavin Williamson would only lead to him being used as a scapegoat for yet another failure of this current government, in what was a clear and blatant attempt to enforce their beliefs in a class hierarchy, with attempts to stop those they don't deem worthy from attaining high-end jobs or university places.

Gemma Powell

Fuelled by an abundance of angst on results day, extracting support from the British Government as a student was about as fruitful as drawing blood from a stone.

A-level students were the guinea pigs for a grading system which the Government opted, leaving students with little faith in the Government. After 40% of student’s grades were downgraded, students protested. The Government took a sudden U-turn meaning that their controversial algorithm, which calculated grades, was scrapped. Also, it means that more students have received the grades to go to their first choice of university. It is inconceivable and unfair that they were willing to let the most disadvantaged students suffer at the hands of this algorithm.

According to The Guardian, unlike the initial governmental response to A-levels, GCSE results were predominantly based on teacher’s estimates. Amongst GCSE results, the number of students who have received a 7, 8 or 9 has increased by 26%, which is up by 20% from 2019. Additionally, 75% of GCSE students passed their subjects, which is up by 8.9%.

On A-level results day, BTEC students were not included in the U-turn to award grades based on teachers' estimates (despite having completed assignments throughout the year), which should be deemed a good enough indicator of what grade they would have received. They will now have their results reconsidered and at the same time, 100 000 BTEC students on GCSE results day are still waiting for final grades.

The exam board Pearson has said: "We will be regrading BTECs to address concerns about unfairness in relation to A-levels and GCSEs and ensure no BTEC student is disadvantaged". Nick Gibb, the school's minister, hopes students will get their results in the coming week.

Throughout the chaos of the last few weeks the Labour Party and education unions have called for clarity; Conservative Education Secretary Gavin Williamson was not clear about any of his departments’ decisions and his time in the role could be borrowed. Williamson has apologised and says GCSE students should feel ‘’incredibly proud’’, additionally saying that ‘’this is an exciting day and young people now can look forward to making their next steps’’, clearly missing the irony of his own statement.  Despite calls for Williamson to step down, it remains a complicated situation. He blames Ofqual for not ‘’delivering’’, despite the Department of Education having ‘’full confidence’’ in Ofqual. It is possible that he has used Ofqual as a scapegoat for his own wrongdoing, therefore Boris Johnson must find someone to take over Williamson's job, at least to avoid a second wave of utter distrust and disgust.

Louise Cusine

Featured Image: U.S. Secretary of Defense on Flickr

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