England, Wales and Scotland section of International Socialist Alternative

A Level results 2020: no to the unfair grading system

This Thursday 13th of August will see the release of A-level grades across England and Wales. This year, however, students are filled with more than the usual pre-grade jitters. The Covid-19 outbreak has led to the cancellation of exams for students all over the country. This has forced the government to devise an algorithm to predict the grades a student is believed to have achieved. There is growing concern from both students and institutions that the implemented systems for grading are unfit for use and outright unfair.

The system in place for England and Wales focuses less on the achievements of students and instead relies on the past performance of schools, which will ensure that students from poorly funded schools are destined to underachieve (regardless of ability) and be forced out of the competition with their peers from more affluent areas. 40% of grades in England and Wales expected to be downgraded. This has led to a ‘postcode lottery’ effectively excluding many students from working class backgrounds from higher education, whilst ensuring those from wealthier backgrounds gain an unfair advantage.

This state of affairs has brought to light the failings of the capitalist education system. It has demonstrated the elitism that is built into the system that is geared to maintaining the status quo to the disadvantage of working class and poor people. This is despite the government being warned of the unjust grading system weeks prior to its implementation.

The appalling decisions of the Tory government have exposed further inadequacies, with a level of racial inequality that was previously swept under the rug. Researchers at the Universities of Birmingham and Nottingham found that there was a clear racial discrepancy in education. Out of 500 students, only 67% of those with African descent and 42% of Asian descent described their school/college as handling their education well during the Covid-19 crisis compared to 81% of white students.

Changes north of the border – where Scottish students got organised and successfully fought back against a similar grading system – have brought some new hope to England and Wales. But many educators feel it has come too late. In Scotland, the main change is that a teacher’s own opinion will be taken into account in determining exam results. The approach is different in England, where students can appeal their grade if it is lower than those of their mock exams, and in Wales where this will be based on AS level grades. There is no consistent system for marking mocks, and the appeals process is still totally unclear. Many educators within trade unions have expressed how the last-hour change has just introduced chaos and panic by giving such short notice. Many educators expressed outcry at how the government has handled the situation, despite having been made aware of the problems months ago.

With seemingly no solid plan how to handle the education crisis, many students and educators alike express great concern as to the future handling of education under the leadership of the Conservative government. As the world capitalist economy descends into its deepest crisis on record, students and teachers need to get organised against the increasing gap between schools, in order to ensure working-class students have equal access to resources.

It is clear that Johnson’s Tories have failed completely to provide a fair, functional grading system for 2020 and the Covid-19 crisis. Classist, elitist, racist and sexist structures have been made clear to tens of thousands of school students across England and Wales. As socialists, it is our responsibility to challenge this system and lead the working class struggle against an education system that allows those from wealthier backgrounds to get the upper hand, be it via the choices afforded to students, or the availability of jobs and apprenticeships. We must unite to defend our students and to rebuild the education system into a fair and unbiased institution that champions the strengths of students not the interests of the capitalist class!

Socialist Alternative says:

  • No to the ‘postcode lottery’ grading system! Teachers unions, parents and students themselves should make the final call on how grades are determined by setting up elected bodies.
  • Make higher education accessible! Open up university places to 2020 pupils.
  • We need real investment in jobs, apprenticeships and education. Young people should not have to pay for this crisis.
  • For a fully funded, public education system under democratic control of students and teachers and parents.

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