Over the last week, I’ve received over a thousand messages outlining concerns around A-level results. Firstly, I should say that as a former teacher, I do understand both the seriousness of this issue and the very real (and lasting) distress that can result from ambiguity in terms of exam results. And of course, that’s on top of the other anxieties faced by students pondering their next steps at a time fraught with uncertainty.
It’s worth emphasising that any system introduced in lieu of exams would always have been sub-optimal. As well as fairness across the state and private sectors and between students in the same year of study, the anomalies around this year’s results must also be fair to those students in adjacent years – against whom the 2020 class may be competing in the job market – as well for admission to undergraduate and post-graduate courses in the future.
Having looked carefully at the algorithm designed by OFQUAL, I did have significant concerns about its outcomes and methodology. In particular, the weighting of teachers’ predictions according to class sizes threatened to entrench the advantages of those who have already benefitted from closer individual attention. I also felt that the appeals process needed to be more responsive to individual students rather than simply considering them as a somewhat amorphous statistical sample.
Over the weekend, I (alongside other colleagues) was in touch with the Department for Education and ministers to make my reservations clear. Perhaps the biggest failure of the OFQUAL algorithm was that it drew broad correspondences to ensure this year’s results mirrored those of previous years as closely as possible. That’s statistically comprehensible, but, on a human level, is the wrong basis on which to determine an individual’s future. And, as someone who’s taught students of this age, I know that it’s on that basis – that human basis - that these decisions must be taken. And of course, no algorithm is a substitute for the insight teachers can provide into their own students’ academic performance, abilities and expectations.
I’m therefore delighted that the Government has been responsive and has thought again. And of course, over the next few days I’ll continue to apply pressure on behalf of all those students and parents who’ve been in touch with me.
I thank all of you who have taken the time to contact me on this crucial issue.