Samantha Smith

A level students have been failed again

A student receives her A level grades, 2020 (Photo: Getty)

The world was turned upside down in 2020. Schools closed, shops shut, and planes were grounded as the global health crisis hit the world. The great institutions of our society seemed to crumble under the pressure of the pandemic. This was particularly the case for the UK’s education system, which is still failing students 18 months on.

This morning, students will be receiving their A level grades, after a year of learning interrupted by constant lockdowns. I can sympathise with students this year – I experienced first-hand the devastation caused by last year’s A level algorithm fiasco.

After the algorithm gave me a B, E and U, I was rejected by both my first and second choice universities. While the government did U-turn a week later and switched to teacher assessed grades for some students, it was too late for me and thousands of other young people who saw their hard work dashed by what an algorithm thought we ‘ought’ to achieve.

The reality of my situation was crushing. To not have the opportunity to sit my exams after years of work seemed like some sort of cruel joke.

After becoming homeless at 16, I worked hard to continue my studies, held down three minimum-wage jobs to keep food in my mouth and clothes on my back, studied in coffee shops and fast food restaurants and moved from sofa to sleeping bag every night. However, in the end, the algorithm decided my grades, depriving myself and others of the opportunity to prove our potential.

The A level algorithm was disastrous, but teacher-assessed grades are not much better

Given the harm caused to young people last year, it was not surprising to see the government promise that it would learn lessons this year. The Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said that exams were the ‘only way’ to fairly assess young people’s capacity for success and promised that last year’s artificial A level results were a once-in-a-generation occurrence that would not be repeated.

I personally took this assurance to heart and decided to ‘re-sit’ my exams this year to improve my grades.

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