Education

Even grade inflation can’t save state school students from private school privilege

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The number of top grades awarded reached an all-time high this year as 44.3% of students achieved either an A* or A in their exams. The A-Level results from this year have commonly been described as ‘inflated’ due to the 19.1% increase in top grades from 2019 – the last year physical A-Level exams were held. 

Despite this so-called ‘inflation, the proportion of top grades remains in favour of private-school students. Not even inflated grades will save state-school students from inequality. 

By definition, ‘grade inflation’ means the awarding of grades higher than students deserve. By using this expression, it refuses the hard work and determination that A-Level students have put into their results, even if they didn’t sit physical exams. The expression seems divided between private and state-school students. As soon as those from working-class backgrounds succeed, it’s seen as undeserving.

It’s worth noting the change to the numerical grading system for GCSEs beginning with English Language, Literature and Mathematics in 2017. This change to the curriculum made it harder to achieve top grades with the addition of a grade 9 equivalent to an A**.

In 2018, all subjects were changed to use this system. The reason for this change was to decrease the number of students achieving top grades. Now that we’ve seen an increase in the number of students receiving top A-Level grades, it’s been reported that A-Levels may now change to numerical grades.

But, this isn’t a resentment to meritocracy or a push to right a wrong system. The change in this system disadvantages state school students, ensuring private schools provide better education and continue to be perceived as elite.

The same will happen for A-Levels. After two years of disrupted teaching, the incoming year 12s will possibly face a new system of teaching led by teachers who are still struggling with online learning. Accompanied with the creation of T-Levels, a new vocational qualification that combines the technical aspect of BTECs and the written component of A-Levels. Certain schools will be able to fund these new qualifications, while others are already struggling to provide a range of subjects for their students due to recent cuts.

Cambridge Academic Diane Reay found that less affluent children also receive a more restrictive education – ‘because the schools that working-class children mostly go to are not doing well in the league tables, there’s a lot of pressure on their teachers and heads to increase their league table position. That means they focus ruthlessly on reading, writing and arithmetic.’

Funding for disadvantaged schools in the northeast has been moved from disadvantaged schools to those in wealthier areas. The divide of available subjects between north and south remains prevalent – only recently has Classics been added to a Leeds City school’s curriculum, the first school to include this in the entire region.

The 2020 A-Level Results shambles created unplanned gap years, a lack of support, and dread over a return to formal education for many. Students not attached to a college, sixth-form or private institution suffered most, as they had no representation nor teacher to provide predicted grades nor have mock results to back them up.

Some universities started refusing the offer of deferred entry to students due to an influx of students changing their offer once lockdown began, meaning plans for a gap year to earn money for students from lower socio-economic backgrounds was unattainable.

Many students received lower results than expected – meaning even with the U-turn, they couldn’t go to their first-choice uni nor study their preferred choice of subject. For those from broken homes or who couldn’t afford a year-out, the situation was even worse.

As students from 2020 deferred their places, it meant that courses for 2021/2022 had fewer places on offer, especially vocational courses like dentistry and medicine. Thus, the competition gets tougher and students need to stand out even more from their peers, this could be with extra-curricular activities and more qualifications, which are often unavailable for state-school educated children and can cause them to miss out on top offers.

Reaching out to 93% Club Durham – which is part of the UK’s largest network for state-school students and a charity in aid of social mobility, President Luke Alsford and Vice President Keely Brown stated that ‘despite an increase in top A-Level grades across the board, the points gap only emphasizes differences between the state and private sector in resources and accessibility in-home learning, something that the 93% Foundation’s research has also touched upon’ ‘it proves that students from state school progressing into university and professional life will continue to have to fight competition out of their control from private school alumni with even higher results.’

One thing that has remained clear amongst all of this is that the attainment gap will forever be divided as long as the education system prioritises private schools. The existence of private schools removes the autonomy of state schools from receiving proper funding and support, and that needs to change if we want to achieve any type of educational equality.

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