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A little less conversation, a little more action please
The impact of coronavirus on schools and examinations served to bring the inequalities in education into the light of day. But alongside this there has been an overwhelming sense that analysis, analysis, analysis has overtaken positive action. The words of the Elvis Presley song were penned in a somewhat different context back in 1968. But they have been used in many political campaigns since. They are revisited here because it seems we have a government that has seen plenty of evidence of the searing inequalities in fair access to education and opportunity yet choses to turn away from taking adequate action.
Yet another analysis emerged in Scotland that shows the profound inequalities that exist and are exacerbated by government policies. This was revealed on the 18th October 2020 in a report on the distribution of downgraded of exam results in Scotland this summer. It took a closer look under the weighty stone of ‘standardisation’ and found things the government would like to be left alone. Those with greater advantages seem to fare better and take the pole positions in access to the elite universities without the burden of fees.
This was especially noticeable in Edinburgh where the range of down grading went from a staggering 46.1% in one state school (close to where I live) to only 6.3% in a well known independent school. Independent schools magnify the social divisions most in the capital and COVID-19 has revealed something stark. Black simply compared the downgrading with the proportion of school students in receipt of free school meals. The first thing to notice is the wide range of schools requiring assistance to feed their students. None at the 41 independent schools to over 40% in fine of the most deprived schools. The results are more striking for the Higher results. In Scotland, these examinations mark the future, or not, in Higher Education for those taking them. They are the main gateway to upward social mobility. The figure shown here illustrates the stark reality for those with few advantages and the way the examination standardisation this summer punished them the most.
Torrents of ‘analyses’.
There have been torrents of analyses that all point the same way to inequality and unfairness. This week is no exception as more came pouring in. The Guardian reported that students in care get some or little help depending on where they live (Guardian 29th October 2020 ‘A postcode lottery is stopping children in care from going to university’. This is despite the glaring well documented gap showing that “The numbers are staggering: just 12% of care-experienced pupils compared to 42% of their peers”. This was known for years and is neglected.
The Sutton Trust is often in the vanguard of advocating help for disadvantaged students. Yet they must be disheartened by the feeble response coming from the government. Their report yesterday ‘PQA: Reforming university admissions’ indicated that most students would like to see a move to post qualification admissions to universities. This is because the most advantaged students benefit more from being made offers in advance of their exams. Yet it persists despite the Sutton Trust showing that “almost 1,000 disadvantaged high-achieving students per year have their grades under-predicted” (Sutton Trust 19th December 2017 ‘Rules of the game’).
The only explanation for the inaction must be a determination to maintain the status quo. We must ask, who benefits the most? The answer is obvious. Elvis Presley also said, “Adversity is sometimes hard upon a man; but for one man who can stand prosperity, there are a hundred that will stand adversity”. It seems the status quo will prevail as long as this remains the case.
Mike Larkin, retired from Queen's University Belfast after 37 years teaching Microbiology, Biochemistry and Genetics. He has served on the Senate and Finance and planning committee of a Russell Group University.
UPDATE 8th August 2020 Things are moving fast today with severe criticism mounting about Ofqual and SQA, and urgent action is needed. TEFS has laid out ten points that should be considered to reverse out of the crumbling mess. Fairness should replace 'maintaining standards' as the primary objective. The government must cease trying to defend a system that acts as a barrier to the less advantaged. Since posting yesterday, things have been moving fast. Today the Guardian put the examinations issue in large print on its front page with ‘Nearly 40% of A-level result predictions to be downgraded in England’ . This conclusion came about after some great detective work by former medical statistician, Huy Duong, who analysed the data available and reconciled this with the Ofqual announcement that there could have been a 12% inflation in higher grades. It seems that Ofqual have been caught red handed and "Duong’s findings were privately confirmed to the Guardian by ex
This week confirmed beyond any doubt that Ofqual is pointing the finger of blame for the public examinations chaos this summer firmly at the government and its ministers. The positions of Schools Minister, Nick Gibb and Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson must be on the line. When Williamson is confronted by the Education Committee next week, like Momus he may find his mask has slipped and cannot lay blame anywhere else. He might be meeting his Nemesis and find he is expelled from his lofty position. Called to account. On Wednesday morning, Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, Education Permanent Secretary, Susan Acland-Hood, and Director for Qualifications, Michelle Dyson, will be called to account by the Education Committee. With the redoubtable Robert Halfon in the chair, they will face a hard time. This is because Halfon and his colleagues will be armed with more documentary evidence from Ofqual and others that look bad for both ministers. All of the correspo
UPDATE: Augar Speaks out Today, Friday 8th May 2020, Philip Augar broke cover and commented on the financial crisis in our universities in the Financial Times. With ' The time is ripe to reform UK university finance' he acknowledged that "Covid-19-related disruption may now mean that such a fee cut would be too destabilising" . He is looking to a new post-COVID-19 world and he must be listened to. The likelihood of the government's response to his report last year diverging far from its recommendations looms. Augar has offered alternative options for funding Universities in his article for the Financial Times today (8th May 2020). His input is welcome at this time and the government should be bringing him into the fold again. TEFS has argued for a comprehensive review of university finances that goes well beyond simply looking at students and fees with: "Therefore, a working group involving students (such as NUS), staff (such as UCU) universi