We recognise that the circumstances surrounding this year’s A-levels made any ideal outcome impossible, but it is clear that – in a significant number of cases – individual students have been left with their future plans in disarray. What’s more concerning is that many of these students are from the least advantaged backgrounds. These are the young people who already face the biggest barriers in accessing higher education; barriers that have been compounded during lockdown. Every hour, we are encountering more young people whose plans for university, apprenticeships or jobs have been seriously affected because they were statistical exceptions.
We note that Ofqual’s Technical Report details that the A/A* attainment gap between FSM and non-FSM students increased from 6.1% in 2019 to 7.1% in 2020, reversing progress made the prior year. Furthermore, independent schools saw a 4.7 percentage point increase in A/A* grades compared to just 0.3pp at Sixth Form/FE/Tertiary colleges.
As coalitions, working collaboratively to tackle educational inequality, our priority is to focus on how we, and the government, can best support young people. We call upon the government to ensure that no student, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, has their opportunity of work, training or study compromised by being graded unfairly by an algorithm.
We urge the government to do this by:
- Replacing calculated grades with centre assessment grades (CAGs) for all students where it doesn’t result in a decrease in grade awarded. This removes the bias that currently favours those in small subject cohorts, who already receive an unadjusted CAG.
- If calculated grades are not replaced with CAGs, we recommend publishing CAGs alongside the grades awarded. To allow universities and employers to better interpret the grades awarded, a flag should show if their awarded grade was based on a CAG (due to small cohort size) or calculated grade.
- Waiving appeal fees and developing a fast-track appeals process, so that young people can get a quick and smooth resolution to their grade concerns. This includes making sure that appeals can be made easily by those who no longer have the support of an assessment centre.
- Providing young people who choose to take autumn examinations with access to the academic support needed to succeed.
- Protecting young people from financial challenges during this time, by ensuring that they can access full social security benefits, at least until the exam results are published.
- Removing the university student number cap, which is a structural barrier to less-advantaged applicants, and has hindered the flexibility of higher education institutions in recent days. Government should support the use of contextualised admissions processes which have played a vital role in fair treatment of the most impacted students.
The Fair Access Coalition:
Nathan Samson, CEO, The Access Project
Anne-Marie Canning MBE, CEO, The Brilliant Club
Laura Gray, CEO, Brightside
Sam Holmes, CEO, Causeway Education
Maria Neophytou, Interim CEO, Impetus-PEF
Rachel Carr OBE, CEO, IntoUniversity
Johnny Rich, CEO, Push
John Craven, CEO, upReach
Rae Tooth, CEO, Villiers Park Education Trust
Sam Butters and Gina Cicerone, Co-CEOs, Fair Education Alliance