Last week, students across the country received their A Level grades and, despite Government promises that almost no students would suffer any downgrading as a result of being awarded grades through an algorithm, it became clear that a huge number achieved grades far below what they and their teachers expected.
Mary was contacted by a significant number of young people, families and teachers who were desperately disappointed and outraged by the outcome of this process, and so she immediately made contact with the headteachers of educational establishments that offer A Levels, wrote to Durham University to see what steps it was taking to support young people who had been disadvantaged by the awarding system, and also wrote to the Secretary of State for Education to raise these matters. You can read Mary’s letter below.
Dear Secretary of State,
I am writing to you to ask that you urgently intervene to correct the flawed system used to determine A-Level results, which has failed so many pupils not only in the City of Durham, and across the country.
I have been contacted by a huge number of teachers, parents and students asking me to help them, and no doubt your inbox is even more full than mine with similar heart-breaking experiences. Already the damage caused by these unfair results is becoming apparent, with numerous students having lost their place at their dream university having to accept a place at their insurance choice or even miss out on university altogether. Reading these accounts, the message received is clear; the system has failed, and it has to be fixed .
I accept that the issue of how to award grades in a fair and representative manner was a difficult task for any Government and that there was no perfect solution. However, a system that has downgraded the results for around 40% of students is far from perfect; it is disastrous. The Government has had five months to create a system that is as fair is possible and that does not discriminate, and yet it has continued to rely on an algorithm that was guaranteed to fail young people. It appears to have been weighted against students in the most deprived areas, and these areas appear to have been hit the hardest. This system has delayed and dashed the dream of countless young people across the country.
The Government’s system has even failed by its own criteria, with many schools being awarded grades that fall well-below their historic performance, a problem we have seen in my constituency at Durham Johnston Comprehensive School. At this school, the number of A grades awarded has fallen 4.1% against the three-year average, while the number of B grades has fallen 6%. A similar picture has emerged at other schools, with it being clear that the outcomes have not been consistent or fair, with many individual students falling through the gaps.
On top of this, the Government has broken the pledge made by Nick Gibb, Minister for School Standards, that no pupil would be downgraded by more than one grade. Now that results have been released, we know that this is clearly not the case, with a number of my constituents left devastated by extreme downgrading of results.
It is clear that this approach has failed by almost every measure, succeeding only in rewarding the privileged and punishing the disadvantaged. The Government must now take immediate action to resolve this situation. This must be done in a way that has equality and the best interests of students at its heart. It must be communicated quickly and clearly to all students, families and education providers affected by this scandal.
At the very least, the Government must immediately waive all appeals fees for education providers and pupils. These fees act as a barrier to deprived pupils and schools from achieving their deserved grades and will only serve to increase the attainment gap in education. I have already had one school in my constituency tell me that these fees may limit the number of appeals it can submit. It would be disgraceful if students were prevented from making reasonable and justified appeals due to their own financial situation or that of their schools.
As well as waiving these fees, it is vital that the Government implements a system that does not punish pupils due to where they are from, which school they attend, or whether their potential fits into an algorithm. To allow a deeply flawed and algorithm to determine the future of students is clearly unjust.
The fairest solution is to award pupils their teacher assessed grades, with a no detriment policy for those who have succeeded under the current system and a free right of appeal.
I would also urge you to listen to the Leader of the Opposition and conduct an immediate review into the standardisation process ahead of GCSE results. Without this review, the fiasco that you have presided over this week will be repeated for GCSE students only on a much wider scale.
The Conservative Party have always claimed to be the party of aspiration; yet only yesterday you told an entire year of students that they should aim lower. You have promised to level up the North East and yet you have hit the most deprived areas the hardest, and punished young people just because they come from a less-privileged background.
This issue effects thousands of young people. One of my students has contacted me to say that ‘the Class of 2019/20 are relying on you and the Labour Party’, a sentence that breaks my heart. Unfortunately, only you can fix this mess.
There is still time to put right the injustice of these A-Level results. However, every hour you delay, another student unfairly loses their place at university or their anxiety increases. It is time for quick, clear action from the Government that ensures young people across the country achieve the grades that the teachers who know them best believe they deserve.
An entire year of students urgently await your decision.