• theleftberlin

Down with the Algorithm!

Updated: Aug 18, 2020

by Andrew Burgin

Students took to the streets this week after the government refused to accept the professional judgement of teachers in respect of their projected A level results. The Department for Education has imposed a biased algorithm which disproportionately downgraded the results of students from schools in more disadvantaged areas.

The algorithm reinforced the existing inequality in educational provision by boosting the grades of students from private schools and lowering those of hundreds of thousands of students from working class areas. It exposed the class divisions at the heart of the educational system and society at large. Hardly any students from Eton had their projected grades reduced.

photo Guy Smallman

The government responded to criticism by announcing an appeals system. But no sooner had they done this than the elite universities said there was little point appealing as they would not hold places for students whose A levels had been downgraded. Even if that decision was reversed on appeal. Many students from poorer families will lose their university places.

Paul Dobson, professor of public policy at the University of East Anglia said: "The fact that fee-paying schools have been the primary beneficiaries of the increased number of A* and A grades will mean that their share of places at elite Russell Group universities will have increased at the expense of a declining share for state schools". There are moments when the real class nature of society is laid bare and this is one such.

photo Guy Smallman

In Scotland where there were widespread immediate student protests the algorithm was withdrawn by the SNP government. Edinburgh school student Sarah McLuachlan, of Holy Rood High School, organised the protest that led to the volte-face from the Scottish government. McLuachlan described the exam body’s approach as: ‘incredibly classist and insulting. It has created a class divide by basing results off a school’s past exam performance and its post code. Thousands of teenagers who may have excelled in their prelims or received steady grades all year have had their results deflated – purely because they live in a more deprived area or their school isn’t as privileged as others.’

Liverpool protest. Photo Alan Gibbons

In England, where the Tories are defending the downgrading, the protests continue. In London, protests have continued over the last several days with at least 1,000 students blocking the road outside the Department for Education on Sunday.

There was a 250 strong protest outside the Senedd (Welsh parliament) called at a day’s notice.

This injustice needs to be overturned immediately. The GCSE results next week will compound the unfairness. The Education Secretary Gavin Williamson should resign. Left Unity supports the students and expresses our solidarity with them.

This article first appeared on the Left Unity Website. Reproduced with the author's permission.

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