BLAM UK is an educational and advocacy not-for-profit

This week, A-Level, BTEC and other higher education qualification grades were released by Ofqual (the UK regulatory body for exams and qualifications) prompting a public outcry over downgrading. At the sharpest end of this are multiracial working-class pupils in attendance at comprehensive schools in historically underfunded areas, over a third (35.6%) of which have been demoted by one grade, and 3.3% dropped by two grades. This was foreseeable issue that the Government and Ofqual should have done more to prevent.

In April this year, we responded to the Government’s two-week-long online public consultation, considering the impact of cancelling the 2020 summer exam series for A-Level (and GCSE) students. At the time, we raised the issue that the consultation was deeply flawed, as it was onerous and therefore highly exclusionary. Furthermore, along with other concerned students, parents, teachers and advocacy organisations, we saw that the proposed method of standardising teacher grades, which uses automated algorithmic calculation to bring this year’s cohort grades in line with previous cohorts, would disproportionately affect racialised and  poorer pupils. Why? There is much grade variability across state comprehensive cohorts, often poorer pupils do better in the final exams rather than in mock exams, and crucially this gives all working-class pupils, but  especially high-achieving ones, the opportunity to outperform previous cohorts. This is not news to the Government or Ofqual, they were warned a postcode lottery would ensue if they implemented standardisation.

Some 280,000 of ‘Generation Covid-19’ have been left heartbroken with their downgraded results, and many of which will be left fighting for places in university clearing if the Government does not seriously consider reinstating assessed teacher grades (before standardisation). It is teachers, not an automated algorithm, that are better placed to predict the outcomes of their students. However, it is also of note teacher grading alone cannot be a suffice safety net; as Black students routinely out perform their teacher predicted grades. What is also of concern, while the multiracial poor in attendance at state comprehensives emerge as ‘losers’ in this lottery, the rich, in attendance at independent and private schools have come out on top, as the ‘winners’ if you will. The proportion of private-school students receiving A and A* (4.7%) this year, is more than twice as high as the proportion of students at comprehensive schools (2%). 

And, the Government and Ofqual’s decision to only standardise grades in subjects with more than fifteen entrants is also another example of this class lottery. Schools with classes of less than fifteen students are mainly found in the private and independent sector, not in comprehensives. This means that wealthier students are able to retain their teacher assessed grades, whereas poorer students will not, by the very nature that classrooms of less than fifteen students seldom exist in state schools. Appealing a grade is also more accessible to those with higher disposable incomes, as there is a payable fee if the appeal is not upheld. For those with no recourse to public funds i.e. working-class appellants, the introduction of such fees is a barrier that will leave many feeling hopeless.

At the moment, students can only make a direct appeal if it is believed that discrimination and/or bias may have effected the decision-making process in grading. All other routes to challenging grades, must be taken-up by the school/centre. But, as we have seen in Scotland this week, pupils have protested against ‘classist’ downgrades and forced the Scottish government to reinstate over 100,000 teacher assessed grades. What further evidence does our Government need to prove discrimination? 

As an educational organisation supporting the black British community, and working-class black pupils in particular, we want to see the Government reinstate teacher assessed grades immediately. Contrary to what Ofqual has said about pupils experiencing downgrades – apparently they are ‘anomalies’ – a quarter of a million students cannot be described as anomalous. These results are not ‘robust’ and ‘dependable’ as Boris Johnson has argued, and they need changing now.

BLAM have drafted template letters to support A-Level, BTEC and GCSE students who want to appeal their grades, you can find them here.

Written by Jessica Perera – BLAM volunteer and Ife Thompson BLAM Founder 

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