Algorithm used to favour Eton over Eltham, Harrow over Harlow, and Millfield over Middleton
If you wish to better yourself, I urge you not to be Northern, working-class, nor a former pupil of a bog-standard comprehensive or academy in an impoverished area. That it seems is the message we are getting from this year’s ‘A’ Level results. A staggering 40% of results were downgraded from the teachers’ predictions at each College of Further Education and Sixth Form Department.
Owing to the Coronavirus, ‘A’ Level and GCSE courses were marked differently compared to previous academic years. Historically, the final marks were based on coursework and examinations. Thanks to COVID-19, no examinations were held. Final marks had to be moderated to ameliorate such issues.
Well before this year, marks for academic and vocational qualifications have been moderated. This is based on the school or college marks. Then a final mark will be given, subject to the moderator’s observations. S/he may think the educational establishment was too harsh or too generous. Instead of Distinction for a final grade, our BTEC National Diploma student could be downgraded to a Merit. If the college was a bit strict with its ‘A’ Level marks, a student’s B, B, and C grades could be upgraded to A, A and B.
This year, the Tories chose to ‘follow the science’ with Artificial Intelligence having a say in the future of our Sixth Form students – or at least anyone with dreams of bettering themselves. Yesterday, a set of algorithms which caused confusion over Scottish students’ results were rescinded, in favour of using predicted grades and mock test results.
Over in England, we do things differently. Compared with our fellows north of Gretna Green, ‘differently’ means ‘badly’, instead of the Greater Mancunian semantic of ‘doing things differently’. The Tories chose to keep the algorithms. Whereas Nicola Sturgeon and John Swinney admitted they had screwed up, Education Minister Gavin Williamson stood by the grades.
Unsurprisingly – and quite rightly – parents and students were up in arms. In many cases, the grades fell down two places – from an A* to a B. In some cases, three or four. Though some Public School students saw ‘A’ Level grades being marked down, most of the students that had their grades lowered came from working class areas. They went to an academy in Middleton instead of Millfield, or a bog-standard sixth-form college in Harlow instead of Harrow. If you studied in Tameside and had dreams of going to the London School of Economics, there’s every chance your dreams may have quashed.
If you went to a Private School, or a school that has had a longstanding good reputation, there’s a chance your marks might have matched the teacher’s predictions. Or moderated upwards. Why, might this be the case? The algorithms were weighted in favour of schools with smaller classes (which favour fee-paying schools), and schools that happened to be in affluent areas. There’s every chance that the grades may have been gerrymandered to favour Grammar School leavers in Altrincham over peers studying at North Trafford College.
So, what have we learned from today’s lesson? We have learned that the Tories favour the discrepancies because it keeps their schools sweet. They have been rigged to stop potential working class, BAME and disabled undergraduates from getting near a university building. It keeps their kind of people in Higher Education institutions. We have also learned that any self-respecting family may be better off moving to Scotland, not only due to Holyrood’s admission of guilt. Their children might prosper under an independent Scotland with EU membership and Freedom of Movement twenty years from now. Oh, and there’s no tuition fees.
The Tories’ defence of the science, in this context, is a microcosm of their modus operandi. They claim to be a pro-working class party thanks to gains in Red Wall Constituencies like Heywood and Middleton. In reality, the A Level grades algorithm has been set to stop its new voters from bettering themselves in any way. They have claimed that Brexit would bring untold riches and prosperity after leaving the EU. In reality, taking back control has meant much reduced opportunities to live, work and study in mainland Europe without a visa or work permit.
As to where the Brexit narrative fits in, it is said that many 18 – 25 year-olds favour the restoration of our EU Membership. Not least the fringe benefits of Freedom of Movement and frictionless trade, as well as being able to fall in love with a Latvian and set up home anywhere in an EU Member State of your choice.
This points to a bigger elephant in the room: the Tories hate anyone that challenges their gilded cage of millionaires, billionaires and trillionaires in the making. Especially an eighteen-year-old Asian lad with an autism spectrum condition who either lives in Clayton, Toxteth or Langley. If you have less than a million in the bank, the Tories don’t care about you. If you’re a working-class billionaire, they probably wouldn’t give a stuff about you either.
If you understand the previous paragraph, this should be enough to motivate you towards being a university graduate. Under normal circumstances, that would be the case. With the use of their World Beating EGG Tool (the Educational Grades Gerrymandering Tool), it is harder than ever (unless you move to Scotland).
The COVID cover
It seems to me that COVID-19, Coronavirus or pandemic is being used as a foil for foisting pernicious policies on us. It was assumed that parents would be more understanding of the circumstances due to the pandemic with our ‘A’ Level results. The opposite applied. How long will it be before COVID-19 is used as a foil to denigrate the NHS? That is already happening; front line staff were denied pay rises. The Test and Trace system is being delivered by private sector companies, when the National Health Service and local authorities are better placed for this operation.
What about our economy? To the Tories, nothing beats a recession, because it gives them free rein to cut our public services even more. (You remember public services… places like libraries that enable working class people to better themselves). With the COVID cover, they would claim that the World Beating private sector response to the pandemic would justify a greater role for them (and the end of our NHS). They are using COVID-19 under the alias of Build Build Build to create a clutch of Jenrickvilles with shoebox houses. In the name of stimulating the economy.
With today’s events and previous events regarding COVID-19, the Tories have become the kind of people that would happily drown a kitten on Christmas Day. In front of your close relatives. After laughing at Bambi’s death and defending the bulldozers in Watership Down. What’s worse is they would probably get away with the above as their misdemeanours would be swept under the carpet by their mates.
It is important that we fight against this injustice as it can set an alarming precedent for future policy ideas. Will similar algorithms be used to mark down football teams based on their past F.A. Cup record? Would Council Tax and Business Rates be determined in a similar way? Will next week’s GCSE grades be a repeat of today’s events? The last thing we ought to do is “go away and shut up”.
S.V., 13 August 2020.
Image of Eton College by Evka W, 2013 (Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License).