Damage and disillusion caused by A-level downgrades

Once again, Boris Johnson thinks a three-part slogan will fix things. A-level results, apparently, are “robust”, “good” and “dependable” (Equalities body warns it may step in after A-level downgrades in England, 13 August). He cannot know the meaning of these words. Where was the robustness required to model the algorithm and to take action when it was obvious some grades would fall from a B to an E or a U? How can these results be declared dependable when they demonstrably punish particular groups of students based on their class size, postcode, or the results of their predecessors? As for “good” – all meaning must have been stripped from this adjective in Mr Johnson’s vocabulary.

How can he possibly think it is good that thousands of young people have unfairly received results that will change the course of their lives for the worse, and that they have been left feeling aggrieved, powerless and disenfranchised? The panicked response that students shouldn’t worry because their mock results could save them, without apparently understanding that not all schools use mocks and that those that do mark them in a variety of ways, simply displays the government’s shameful ignorance of how schools and colleges actually operate.
Mary Smith
(Retired headteacher), Maidstone, Kent

The government’s defence of the downgrading of this year’s A-level results is that not to do so would be “unfair” on last and next year’s entrants. Some common sense is needed here. The main purpose of A-levels is surely to assess a young person’s potential to follow their chosen higher education or employment path. And in truth there is no vehicle for doing this, including exams and teacher assessment, that is anywhere near perfect. Nevertheless, the government dogmatically holds on to the view that it is only results derived from exams that are credible. This is the reason why the 2020 teacher assessments have to be made to look like 2019’s exam results.

Why does it matter that these teacher assessments are overall 12% higher than 2019? Teachers know their students well and in making judgments will have taken into account the targets set, regular reviews of progress towards these, coursework and outcomes from mock exams.

The school or college’s past results have no bearing on an individual student’s academic performance this year. To apply this in the form of an algorithm to remotely adjust the grades of individual students is both grossly unfair and perverse. Why can’t the government trust teachers, universities and employers to work out how best to support the ambitions of today’s young people?
Chris Pratt

What with the Scottish results last week showing huge downgrades, I was preparing myself for the possibility of not attaining my predicted A*A*A, and not meeting my grade requirements to get into university. Still, with the highest grades at GCSE and AS-level in the subjects I did at A-level, I was unsure what data could be used to downgrade me severely.

But when opening my results I found I was downgraded in not one, but all three of my A-level subjects. I had missed the grade requirements for my university place. Since I achieved three A*s in my mocks, I will try to appeal my grades. As of yet, however, not even my college is sure how to go about this. I know the headlines warned that 40% of pupils would be downgraded. Perhaps my expectations were too high.

Or perhaps, if you’re from a deprived area as I am, no matter how hard you’ve worked to achieve the highest grades in the past, it’s not just 40% of your results that go down – it’s 100%.
Syeda Nooresahar Ahmad
Hartlepool, County Durham

As a former secondary headteacher and director of education I was awarded a CBE for services to education. I now find myself ashamed of the education system that I was proud to be part of for over 50 years. My granddaughter has wanted to be a doctor since the premature death of her stepfather from cancer. She worked her socks off for her exams, as well as doing voluntary work in hospitals and was thrilled to have been offered a place at Leeds and Manchester to study medicine.

The school predicted her grades as AAB, which would have secured her place. She has been awarded ACC, which will not. She is distraught and I am angry. I hope there is a massive backlash, as in Scotland, to force the government to scrap these grades and to use the teacher predictions or mock results. Please keep up the pressure until that happens.
Name and address supplied

In the light of the spectacular fiasco that is the government’s mismanagement of this year’s A-level results, how can parents, pupils and teachers possibly trust the same government’s judgment about whether it is safe to fully open schools in a few weeks’ time?
Howard Falshaw
Wakefield, West Yorkshire

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