Something for the Weekend: Making the Grade?

In the latest in Ian Morris‘ series of weekly columns, Ian defends the government’s modelling of this week’s controversial A-Level results – the first time grades have been determined by an algorithm and not exams – amid claims the model used is ‘too blunt an instrument and has created clear injustices’. Is the mainstream news obsessed with ‘bad news stories’?

There are ‘winners and losers’. 

An interesting statement. I am wondering whether the saying should be changed to ‘there are losers and winners’, as it seems to me the media are so fascinated with bad news stories. Before I dive down this week’s rabbit hole, are any of you equally annoyed at ‘you want to have your cake and eat it’? It has always struck me as profoundly stupid, as the saying should have been ‘you want to eat your cake and still have it’.  

Sorry, losers and winners, on Thursday the A-level grades were issued in these unprecedented (word of the year) times. As no exams were able to be taken the Government asked teachers to suggest the grades they thought their students would achieve. At face value this looks like a perfectly sensible approach, but as the news broke it had all gone horribly wrong.  

It would seem that across the board lecturers had been very optimistic about the chances for their young charges and had offered up suggestions that would have seen this year smash all records, this was going to be the brightest year  ever.  

I imagine the conversation between the statistician and the Education Minister as it was explained just how far out the teachers estimates are, and how the Government is going to have to model the results if this year’s results are not going to be considered laughable.  

I love a statistical model, but like binary there are 10 types of people – those that understand and those that don’t. Let me help you through this model:

  • 27.6% of Grades are A or A* this year 
  • 25.2%  of grades were at this level last year. 

This means the percentage in absolute terms is 2.4% higher, but the proportion of these grades is up by nearly 10% above last year. The models the government has used have been more favourable to students. To put this in context the 2.4% rise would have been 12.5% had the government simply accepted what the teachers had told them, a proportional 50% rise.  

Across the board, students will probably have done a little better than they would have done had exams been sat for real. Where was the other half of the equation in the media? Surely for every tear-stained victim there should be someone turning cartwheels of joy because they had ‘lucked in’? Where was the shamefaced teachers’ union representative saying sorry that their members were such big fibbers the government had to bin their recomendations and get out the big old spreadsheet?

Tweet from Sky News reporter Rob Powell, showing statement from OFQUAL, which can be also be found here.

As with almost every topic that has arisen since March, it feels as if we are all supposed to unify and agree that:

  • It is all very bad 
  • It is entirely the government’s fault this has happened 
  • There was an obvious solution that would have worked perfectly had it been adopted 
  • Everyone has lost out as a result  

I  think it might be time to abandon my objectivity and join in.

The government knew this heatwave was coming weeks ago, and they have done literally nothing to help. My bedroom is still south-facing and the strength of the sun has made it unbearable. Did they look to join an EU bid for air conditioners and have one delivered to my house? Not a bit of it.

Where was uncle Rishi’s ‘Stay in cos you’re not thin’ grant of £400 so I could buy my own air conditioner? Nowhere chum, nowhere. Does he understand the mental anguish I have gone through this week as at every Zoom and Teams meeting I had to ensure my camera was off, as I sat there wearing shorts, a moistened bandana, and nowt else? No. The government has done nothing for me at all. Yes, the washing dried quicker outside but this is slim reward for the discomfort I am still suffering.  

You wait, the sun will come up again tomorrow, but there are now storms predicted and I don’t own an umbrella. Bloody government, we all lose again…

Something for the Weekend will be back next Friday, tackling national issues from a local perspective. In the meantime, you can check out all of Ian’s writing for S&C, here, along with past editions of the Pompey Politics Podcast.

Photo by Pixabay from Pexels.

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