Education view: Exam fiasco shone light on inequalities

PUBLISHED: 12:30 30 August 2020

Dr Lawrence Foley says Covid-19 has shone a light on societies inequalities.

Dr Lawrence Foley says Covid-19 has shone a light on societies inequalities.

Bobby Moore Academy

August is always a strange time for school leaders.

Off we go at the end of July, after a long and (oftentimes) arduous school year. We are looking for a rest, but it doesn’t really come.

It’s almost impossible to switch off in the summer, not least because we know that results days are just around the corner.

This year has been no different. In fact, in many ways, it has been much worse.

A couple of weeks ago, teenagers up and down the country opened their A-level results in the strangest circumstances; last week, GCSE pupils did the same.

Schools were asked to offer ‘Centre-Assessed Grades’. We were asked to predict what that child might have achieved in their exams based on their prior performance in the subject but also based on the school’s historical performance in exams.

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Ofqual, the government’s exams regulator, then used this data in an algorithm that awarded pupils grades based on the past performance of the school they attend. An idiot could have predicted what would happen.

Many children across the country saw their A-level grades lowered; many of them missed out on much-coveted university places consequently.

These children were disproportionately from more deprived parts of the country. They were victims of a postcode lottery.

In fact, pupils in independent schools enjoyed a 5 per cent increase in the number of top grades being awarded: the largest increase of any school type in the country.

Children did not sit exams this year. They did not get an opportunity to show what they can do, to compete on a playing field that appears, to the naked eye, to be level.

When schools locked down in March and exams were cancelled shortly after, we had a chance to get things right.

We did not. Covid-19 has once again shone a light on the structural inequalities in our society, where an algorithm can tell us that children like these get grades like these.

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