Inflated Achievement: Explaining Ofqual’s Apparent Class Bias and the side effects of the U-turn.
Picture this; a young man is sat at his cubicle desk, in front of a computer, headset on, calls streaming into the clearing line, on A level results day. This was how I spent last Thursday and many days since. To many, this would seem woefully unremarkable and in many respects it was just that, unremarkable. Of course, those students received grades that were in many cases downgraded from their centre assessed grades (CAGs), by one, two and sometimes even three grades as a result of the application of Ofqual’s standardising algorithm. As a science graduate from a Russell group university, with statistical specialisms and an education/e-assessment based dissertation project under my belt, I can tell you that the details of this algorithm did escape me somewhat. However, after some research, I can confirm that the standardisation did take into account a plethora of variables which included, among other things; the size of the school, historical data such as GCSE results and whether or not the A level was considered a minority subject. In such cases that the school was very small or the subject was identified as a minority subject (ie: not widely offered) CAGs were used, unchanged. Private schools disproportionately fit the bill for this, being small with minority subjects on offer, which were downgraded least as a result of this algorithm.
The education secretary: Gavin Williamson claimed that he wished to ‘ensure that we had the fairest possible system’. Many people were quite cross to put it mildly with the system as it stood, the stench of class bias was in the air and so it was literally scrapped, unchanged CAGs were to be used instead.
I witnessed first-hand the effects of the so called ‘U-turn’ while working in the call centre. Nearly 40% of results were originally downgraded, therefore 40% of A level grades were subsequently upgraded and in some cases, multiple times. This resulted in a deluge of people meeting their original university offer requirements whom had not previously.
Another side-effect of the CAGs decision that has fallen by the wayside, perhaps understandably so, is that many people were then attempting to apply through clearing for places at university that they did not previously believe that they were able to take. This resulted in the gargantuan inflation of the clearing grade requirements of a vast number of courses that I observed upon the live spreadsheet in front of me, in real time. A great discharge of consternation flooded through the phone lines as we were inundated with calls from those prospective students along with those who were now calling in order to obtain the peace of mind of knowing that their original offers were being held, which of course they were. Many hundreds of callers were in the queue, including concerned parents, teachers and students which took wait times on the lines to above two hours!
This is not to put the blame on those budding adults. No-no! The antecedent failure was of course the cancellation of the examinations themselves. This would have no doubt lead to a much more transparent and ‘fair’ system that reflected ability superiorly.