England & Wales, Scotland Education and children's services, Public health

Hey Ofqual, leave those kids alone


Photo by Simon Maage on Unsplash

Can we just give the kids a break? Following the fiasco of the Scottish exam results last week it looks likely that the English results will play out in the same way.

Both systems are using a similar model to calculate the results: a combination of teacher estimates and an algorithm based on the past results of the school. Thousands of Scottish students received poorer results than they expected and on Saturday it was reported that as many as 40% of the grades predicted by English teachers will be lowered

And it is young people from disadvantaged backgrounds or who go to schools in poorer areas who will disproportionately suffer the most grade reductions. Once again the effects of this pandemic are not equal and existing inequalities are being exacerbated by the actions of the relevant authorities.

An appeals process has been hastily announced by Ofqual, which has been condemned as not fit for purpose. Parents and pressure groups are calling for a fairer and more robust appeals system. But actually, what would have been so wrong with just letting the grades predicted by the teachers be the grades that were awarded? If those young people had had the chance to sit their exams then of course some would have done worse than predicted and some would have done better. This year though it doesn’t matter and it would be kinder to have the grade decided by a teacher who knew a student than by a statistical model.

If there is one thing that we should have learned from this pandemic (and there are many) it is that beyond the data are people’s lives. The thousands and thousands of deaths were reduced to just numbers during the daily government briefings in the first months of the crisis. Now the lives of our young people are being compromised by a data model that ties their future to the performance of past pupils at their schools.

Support and money has rightly been handed out to many different people and business sectors during the crisis and we can argue about whether it was the right people or in the right way. But a group that has been completely passed over is children – those from poorer backgrounds have been particularly affected but all young people have been badly let down and their education has been ignored. Can we not offer them a small helping hand?

We should do the right thing by the class of 2020 and give them the grades that their teachers predicted.


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