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The Exam Result Algorithm Didn’t Treat Young People With Contempt – the Government Did

Kimi Chaddah 21 August 2020

Boundless Op-Eds: Politics

The problem was not the algorithm.

The government is the problem, the class system is the problem, the chasm between the rich and the poor is the problem, and the algorithm simply perpetuated it.

In blindly trusting an algorithm and the minimisation of exam grade inflation, the government exposed the latent flaws of British society; a society where power is concentrated in the hands of the elite, where classism is pervasive and ministers exude incompetence. It is now seen as an achievement for Gavin Williamson to do a press round with all the finesse of a candidate on The Apprentice, when this is the very nature of his job. There is yet more pain to come, as students scramble for elusive places that continue to evade their grasp and their identities now seem to be shaped by the choices of the elite.

Clearly, the algorithm must have been as “world-beating” as the failed test and trace system; the “safety net” they so frequently referred to acted as the rhetorical equivalent of the “protective ring” they threw around care homes- both simply don’t exist.

The government’s U-turn is far from the “fairytale ending” many perceive it to be.

Thousands of young people up and down the country have lost out on opportunities that will influence their whole lives, because it was believed that teachers could not be trusted, that there would be “No U-turn, no change”, only for the decision to be changed 5 days too late.

This is no longer the traditional narrative of a year group lacking a ‘prom’ and ‘an assembly’- this is the story of a year group who were trapped by ministers’ morally bankrupt ideas of education, disregard of the attainment gap and left abandoned.  It was the government, not Ofqual, who chose to carry on with Results Days in August, who didn’t work with universities, who fail to realise that repetition of a “robust” grading system simply does not manifest in reality. Grades are now being dismissed as “fraudulent” and “inflated”, there are palpable concerns about next year’s cohorts- but there is nothing from the government. Our Prime Minister is..on holiday- in a time of crisis, the absence of leadership is startling.

The government’s U-turn is little consolation to somebody who has missed out on their place as the education system abandoned them when they needed it most. For many, the option of sitting Autumn exams is simply out-of-reach, with exams costing up to £122 per candidate.

How can a minister honestly look a young person in the eye, and say if you’re unhappy, just “resit” the exam? An exam which we never sat, an exam which we weren’t given the opportunity to sit because we’re still in a pandemic. This is yet another move that will disadvantage those who have already been knocked down.

Save the speeches and populist rhetoric of “we’re all in this together”.

This is not an issue that began or ended with the exams scandals last week; nearly 500,000 students are waiting for BTEC results, external candidates have been left without grades, disadvantaged students are being forced to take gap years they never wanted to take and there is no mention of changes to next year’s A-level exams.

The callous disregard for young people exemplifies how the government, not the algorithm, consistently chooses to treat young people with contempt as we become merely expendable data on a spreadsheet.  In engineering the algorithm, the government prioritised the system over the individual, controlling grades over individual needs and complacently helped to reinforce an inflexible class system.

We are not all in this together.

It is no secret that downgrades hit pupils from disadvantaged areas hardest. If a student’s university place has already gone to someone from a richer or private school who had their grade raised while theirs were lowered, there are little options left. Redundancies are endemic. Companies are collapsing. A gap year for many is economically unsustainable. Students have already lost university places, changed courses, lost scholarships and paid deposits to university accommodations in panic.

Echoing the 5 months of limbo before, the 5 months of staring at wall and unending time, many in our year are again have been left floating, desperately trying to grasp the brighter future they desire despite dampened aspirations. We too will eventually fade into insignificance as ‘Back to School’ takes precedence and universities fill places.

Is this how our stories are supposed to end?

Kimi Chaddah is an 18 year-old student in Manchester who strives to see a better world.  Kimi frequently writes (or at least tries to!) about education, politics and society and if people would like to find her on twitter then look for @kimichaddahx

‘The Exam Result Algorithm Didn’t Treat Young People With Contempt- the Government Did’ is a Boundless Ideas commission for 15-25 year olds to write opinion led pieces that speak to themes of Politics, Identity and Theatre.