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A tale of two countries

Some of us are just more equal than others in this tale of two countries. Some of us are so equal that computers decide we’re allowed good grades and some of our equality means that the computers decides we’ll get lower than we deserve. And then the all-benign ‘powers that be’ said that the computers decided fairly and didn’t reinforce systemic biases and pre-existent disadvantages, because, according to the computer, there are none and the system works quite nicely, thank-you-very-much-indeedy.

I wish I’d just made that up, but I didn’t. It is the reality that this country is living, has been living and will probably continue to live.

Last night, Mr Dr Ross and I were talking last night about the mess that was summer exams in England. And we thought about how the algorithm was something that highlighted pre-existing, awful and oppressive systems for people whose schools are in wobbly areas, or for people who haven’t got the ‘best’ pedigrees. Students from wobbly areas or schools where there isn’t a history of progress to uni, or with high proportions of students who qualify for free school means, were systemically shafted by the algorithm, but it was just a very stark embodiment of a system that exists and blocks kids from progressing.

The chat was off the back of the idea of using ‘actual’ A level grades not predicted ones for students to apply to uni. Apparently that’s fairer, because the kids will have their proper grades, which means the system is now fair. And that’s fairer because unis will know the kids’ grades when they apply so it’s fair.

But it’s not.

The switch to actual grades is a small, teeny, tiny lip service and a tweak to a system that remains wholly unchanged excepting the timelines for application to uni. The application processes, knowledge needed during them, the histories and lives and school settings of the kids applying won’t change. Kids from ‘good’ schools in ‘nice’ areas will still have their foot in the door ahead of other kids whose background doesn’t necessarily contain uni, or 6th form or whatever. Tweaking the application changes nothing apart from the date stamp on your email.

Wholesale change to a fairer system it is not.

We need a system with contextualised offers, where kiddos are supported through the application process and things other than A levels are a pathway forward. Mr Dr Ross is right on this path and I’m hoping he keeps making waves with his visions and ideas.