A great opportunity is staring us in the face.
Over the last couple of weeks we’ve seen the complete mess governments in Westminster and Holyrood have made of school exam results. Due to lockdown, final exams for A-levels and GCSEs, technical equivalent exams such as BTECs, as well as National 5s and Highers, the Scottish GCSEs and A-levels, could not be taken. So results had to be calculated based on a few variables, including mock exams and teachers’ predicted grades. And despite having several months to get things ready and work out systems that were fair and equitable, the governments and their examining bodies didn’t just drop the ball, they burst it, kicked it into nettles, set the nettles on fire, poured some petrol on the fire, then said play on, all is fine.
The problem was that both used an algorithm built to stop inflated results. But it looked at how schools had performed in the past, so smart pupils in schools in poorer areas were marked down. They were punished twice – once because underfunding prevented their schools getting essential resources, leading to poorer results. And then, though thriving despite the under-resourcing, the rug was pulled due to what others had done.
The Scottish Government tried to fix things by switching to grades using teacher estimates. Gavin Williamson, Education Secretary in London, saw which way the wind was blowing and hastily announced a fudge that remains unclear.
Either way round, pupils lost out. It was the worst of all worlds. Pupils who got the grades they were predicted, and let’s remember they had worked their school lives towards, saw the results delegitimised.
Also, given what they’ve gone through, why not just keep the grades up? All pupils were locked in at home at the very time they most wanted to be out with friends. They’re facing a job market and housing market that has never been more uncertain. In a few years, they’ll see that other things overshadow the day they got their results. So why not let them have some damn sunshine now? I realise it’s a little late for that.