Column: A Level and GCSE results

The following appeared as my column in the Barnsley Chronicle on 21st August:

Over the last week I’ve had many people contact me about A level results. From students and their families, the overriding feeling was one of unfairness. The last six months have been incredibly challenging for all of us but especially so for many of our young people who, when lockdown was announced, were on the verge of taking all important exams including A levels and GCSEs.

When Scotland’s exam results were announced three weeks ago there was a public outcry when students were downgraded by an algorithm which punished young people in deprived areas and benefitted private schools. Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon stepped in after a week of public outcry changing the results to teacher assessed grades. The Conservatives called for the Scottish Education Secretary to resign over the chaos.

At this point the government knew that they were heading into a similar crisis but they chose to do nothing.

The government’s mishandling of this whole fiasco has been nothing short of disastrous. Young people have been robbed of their future simply because Boris Johnson and his Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson were too stubborn to accept that using a similar algorithm to Scotland was unfair and discriminatory.

For it then to take five days to back down and make a U-turn was a dereliction of duty. Whilst some universities agreed to take teacher predicted grades, many others insisted on taking the algorithm grades which resulted in many young people losing out on university places that were rightfully theirs.

Some universities then filled their remaining places through the clearing system meaning that by the time the U-turn announcement came on Monday, it was too late, their first choice of university was no longer available.

Students from less affluent areas are the ones who have suffered the most throughout this. Here in Barnsley, over 60% of students from Barnsley College had their grades lowered by the algorithm compared to 40% nationally. And yet, by comparison, private schools saw their grades rise overall. The government likes to tell young people that if they work hard they’ll get on in life regardless of their background.

What happened last week completely disproves that, it didn’t matter how hard these students worked, by using the algorithm the government determined their futures solely by their postcode.

I’m pleased that the government saw sense to make its U-turn before the GCSE grades were announced this week, but none of this should ever have been allowed to happen. The government has let down a generation of young people at a time when they most needed their support.

If anyone is still struggling to plan for their future following the government’s complete mishandling of this situation, please contact my office on 01226 743483 or by email to stephanie.peacock.mp@parliament.uk