The Strangest Results Day of them all!

Results day is always a day full of emotions.

It's ordinarily my favourite day of the entire year! I love getting excited messages from my students, happy with their results, and motivated to move on to the next steps in their academic careers.

But the wait for students is excruciating, and it can be hard to wait the eight weeks after exams for the results.

This year, not only has it been a much longer wait since I last supported my GCSE students, but it is an entirely different prospect as we waited to see what the algorithm would present them with, alongside the changing news following the release of the Scottish Highers results earlier in the month, and the A level results last week.

To be completely frank, I have no idea what to expect this Thursday. Or at this point, whether the results will even be made available this Thursday. The situation we're facing, plus the last minute changes, have made it difficult to keep up with the news. But I am confident and relieved that Centre Assessed Grades (from teachers) will be used to assign grades to students.

The latest decision is that students can take the best of their calculated grade (from the contraversial algorithm), or their centre assessed grade. And since no one's grade was inflated by the algorithm, that'll be the centre assessed grades.

Why not use centre assessed grades in the first place?

Back in March, The Secretary of State for Education (Gavin Williamson) spoke on plans for the Summer Exams. He stated, "Our priority is to ensure that students can move on as planned to the next stage of their lives", despite the cancellation of the exams they were due to sit. This meant that he will "make sure they are awarded a grade which reflects their work".

The next best data to provide a grade that reflects their work, or their ability, is their mock results and predicted grades, by teacher assessment. However, Ofqual described a concern that this would result in excessive 'optimism' from their teachers.

"Our initial analysis of the CAGs showed that they were, in general, optimistic (although not always) and the combined effect would be likely to lead to overall national results that were implausibly high. If we had awarded grades based on CAGs we would have seen overall results increase by far more than we have ever seen in a single year."

The result was a moderation of those student results predictions in line with the expected performance of their school as a whole, in line with previous years' data, plus the previous performance of this cohort of students. Therefore, if they attended a school that historically performed below average, their results were down-graded. If they sat in a school cohort of less than 15 students, this was insufficient data for this model to work, and so extra weight was given to their teacher-assigned grade. This was more likely to happen in private schools where there are smaller class sizes alongside more unique exam options.

The end result was that students who were already disadvantaged by the school that they attended showing historically poor performance were further disadvantaged by this downgrading of their teacher-assigned grades.

This amounts of a double down-grading. Their teacher assigned grades were based on their mock results, grade predictions, and previous performance in the school. Disadvantaged students feeling the weight of socioeconomic factors weighted against them, with less access to education, tuition, online resources, nourishing study environments, and supportive home environments, would have already achieved lower results in their mock exams - the data input to their teacher assessment. And now their disadvantage was counted again in the algorithm designed to create fairness.

Who is at fault?

Hindsight is 20-20, and it is very easy to criticise a decision with the benefit of having already seen the outcome. The specific examples highlighted by the A level results last week have shown the stark reality of the inequality created by the grading system this year, resulting in it having been scrapped before the release of the GCSE results. It seems almost impossible that they would go back on this now.

This inequality wasn't created by the algorithm, but spotlighted by it. The anxiety and heartache suffered by students this year must not be underestimated, but I remain hopeful that this spotlight will enable progress towards a fairer education system for students of the future.

The greatest impact is felt by those who need the most support

Since schools closed in March, there have been many examples of the way socioeconomic factors mean the impact is felt more heavily by the disadvantaged students.

What do I mean by disadvantaged? Those from poorer families. Those from families whose first language is not English. Those who live in more densely populated areas. Those who do not have access to the internet. Those who do not have their own bedrooms. Those families who do not have cars, and must use public transport, putting them at greater risk. Those who are not able to provide sufficient food for all of the family. Those who do not have access to a computer at home. Those who do not have a mobile phone to contact friends and loved ones. Those who do not have books at home. Those who can not afford tuition. Those whose parents have lost jobs during lockdown.

But this too has become an issue of race. Black and Asian families are more at risk from the impact of the virus. They are also more likely to be part of the struggling communities who have been more heavily impacted by this algorithm, due to the social injustice inherent in our society. That wasn't created by this virus, but highlighted by it. And once again, I hope this spotlight can create change for the future.

What happens next?

The Government has made a complete U-turn on the A level and GCSE results for 2020. They have also promised additional funding to help students from disadvantaged families to get better access to education in the new and subsequent school years.

As we have seen this year, with the promised laptops and 4G routers to be coordinated through the LEA proving difficult to access, the promise is not always delivered as expected. And so it is the responsibility of all of us with an interest in improving the educational opportunities for ALL students in the UK to make sure that these promises are delivered when the new term starts.

What am I going to do about it?

I have a firm belief that we have no right to complain about any situation unless we are prepared to fully understand it, and to do what is in our power to change it. I have spent a significant amount of my time this year trying to fully understand the inequality in our current education system, and what I have seen is heartbreaking. I am making a commitment today to do my part to make it fairer going forward.

Green Tutors have created an online learning platform to provide students with self-motivated study skills, and the resources they need to achieve their best results for GCSE maths and science. I would like to make this available at no charge to 100 students on pupil premiums in the new school term. Please contact me to apply to join. If you do not have access to a computer to make use of this service, make sure to contact your school and ask about claiming the free student laptops and 4G routers on offer from your LEA.

In addition, I have been sharing advice and resources in my free Facebook group Turn GCSE Stress in Exam Success. Do come and join us today.

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