Skip to main content

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. 

The shocking outcome of down grading in Scotland. 

A report by Barry Black of Glasgow University’s ‘Urban Big Data Centre’ on the 18th October 2020 ‘The Scottish Qualifications Authority’s 2020 Alternative Certification Model – the deprivation impact’, will have gone unnoticed in the rest of the UK. Yet it raised considerable interest in the local press across Scotland, and in particular in Scottish cities. And so it should. It explains why the Scottish government had to act so quickly and precipitate and similar U-turn on calculated exam grades across the rest of the UK (see TEFS 11th August 2020 ‘Stupid or wilful: Exam results common sense fails to spread from Scotland’

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.


Popular posts from this blog

Qfqual builds a concrete wall: UPDATED

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

Bring back Augar and put students first to offer hope: UPDATE Augar speaks out

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

Impact of Coronavirus measures on the working student: The nudge that breaks the camel’s back

The measures taken today by the UK government mean that many small businesses will be forced to close and lay off their workers. With people voluntarily staying away from bars, restaurants and clubs, the impact will be profound. The government will be judged by how it supports people most affected and this will be their legacy. Since the majority employ students as part-time workers, it seems they will be hit especially hard. Add to this the loss of part-time work within universities rapidly shutting down many operations, and the effect will be catastrophic for those in most need. Even PhD students robbed of their pay from casual teaching that they rely upon will be affected. TEFS now calls upon universities and government to step in to help those affected. Emergency hardship funds should be urgently deployed. Having to drop out or fail courses because of lack of support is not an option. Loss of funding and rent arrears will be the ‘straws that break the camel’s back’. The measure