MP View 18th August 2020

I always look at the exam results season with mixed personal view. Significantly, it is important to ensure our local schools are performing. But it also served to remind me how I fluffed my own A-levels, losing a university place to read mechanical engineering.

But this year is different. Very different. Not only are two of my own children in the A level and GCSE cohorts, but a generation of kids are having, literally, their life’s work judged by a spread sheet. I can see, both as a parent and a deeply concerned local MP, just how awful all this is.

The overall statistics are positive. The proportion of all students achieving A or A* is up 2.5%. In a normal year, we might have been complaining about grade inflation. Moreover, a record 210,000 university applications were accepted. Just under 19% of 18 year olds from the poorest backgrounds have been accepted to universities, up from 16% last year.

But, the whole process is arbitrary. And, of course, we have now seen the big change of plan, by the government, to rely on centre assessment grades, and not the algorithm.

This government’s change of position is a good thing as no reader will have missed the absolute heartfelt anguish shown by those students who were arbitrarily given lower grades than those determined by their teachers. Its still not perfect, as some schools and colleges will have been abiding by the guidance of the regulator to be realistic in their judgement, whilst others may have been over-hopeful about outcomes. We will never know how this has affected things, but I believe we have to start by taking the view that teachers are honest and informed about their students’ abilities.

But now we have a new problem. Many students will have been denied their first choice university place, because of the algorithm. Now it turns out they did, indeed, achieve their requirements, only to discover their place has been given to someone else in last week’s clearing system. So they try to take a second choice university place, or wait a year.

For my part, I am in communication with all heads locally to make sure our exam generation get the best possible chance at the next stage of their life. This was never going to be easy in these unprecedented times, but to have your life’s work judged by an anonymous statistician in some grey building somewhere is simply just awful.