Gender neutrality and the war on women’s literature

Education has become embroiled in a culture war and rather than extricating itself politely, it just keeps digging. What gets taught has long been subject to debate: move beyond the basics and you rapidly head into dangerous terrain (although, look hard enough, and you will find those prepared to argue that even maths and spelling are racist). Now it’s not just taught content but the name of modules that is under the woke microscope. One of the UK’s leading exam boards, OCR, has proposed renaming the ‘Women in Literature’ section of its A level English courses. It is taking votes on new titles: ‘gender in literature’ or ‘representing gender’. But

Prepare for the next A-level fiasco

When I was at school, the best grade you could hope to achieve on your termly report card was A5, with A being the highest grade for attainment, and 5 being the lowest grade for effort. I expect there will be a lot more students hoping for, and outright expecting, their own A5s this summer.  In light of the news that GCSEs and A-levels exams will be cancelled this year, Ofqual has now confirmed that grades will be decided by teachers. Schools can use mock exams, coursework and essays, or assessments set by exam boards, but these are optional, will not be taken in exam conditions, nor decide final grades. Make no mistake:

The forgotten victims of the deflated A-level grades

A few weeks ago, I spoke on The Spectator’s podcast about my A-Level results. My story in short: I lost my dream place at UCL to study medicine (my conditional offer was: A*AA) after being downgraded by the algorithm to AABB. As the daughter of a single mother, in a low income household, I’m not exactly the sort of person expected to score top grades (especially not by the now-defunct algorithm). However, with a run of 9s and A*s in my GCSEs, I proved I could beat the odds once, and, had I sat the 2020 exams, I am confident I would have beaten the odds again. But the virus

Meet the students left in limbo by the A-level U-turn

Gavin Williamson’s A-level U-turn may have quietened the protestors but it has only added to the confusion. The education secretary’s change of heart to allow students their teacher predicted grades, rather than those generated by an algorithm, means there could be an extra 60,000 students now entitled to a place at their first-choice university – and universities could be contractually obliged to accept them. But will there be enough places? When pupils originally received their results on 13 August, universities (not assuming a government U-turn was on the cards) started sorting through the offers they had made to students, accepting and rejecting some, and offering new places to others. But only four

A-levels and the dangers of predictive modelling

It turns out we’re not quite so in awe of predictive modelling after all. How different it was back in March when Professor Neil Ferguson and his team at Imperial College published their paper predicting 250,000 deaths from Covid unless the government changed course and put the country into lockdown. It was ‘the science’; it was fact, beyond question. Yet no sooner had the A-level results been published last week than a very different attitude began to prevail. How terrible, nearly everyone now says, that an 18-year-old’s future can be determined by an algorithm which tries to predict what grade they would have achieved had they sat the cancelled exams.

The A-level algorithm shattered my university dream

With a B, an E and a U at A-Level, it came as no surprise that yesterday I was rejected by both my first and second choice universities. Had I sat the exams myself, then I would have been more understanding of the outcome: at least I would only have myself to blame. But those grades do not reflect my ability, nor were they predicted by my teacher. Instead, the BEU that greeted me on results day was based on what an algorithm thought I ought to achieve. Last week, I wrote for Coffee House of my concern that students from disadvantaged backgrounds would be disproportionately impacted by the cancellation of

Don’t forget about BTECs during the A-level circus

The summer ritual of A-level results day is so well known it’s easy to forget the thousands of students receiving their BTec National results. That’s the intro to a BBC News item on vocational qualification results issued today. It’s also the story of British culture and economics, told in a single, unwittingly revealing, sentence. Around 250,000 kids will get BTEC results today – that’s almost as many as the 300,000 or so who get A-level results. But of course, media and political attention paid to the latter group is vastly greater than the former. Why? Because BTECs are for other people: people who are poorer and whose parents didn’t do A-levels