An A-level student from Barnsley has written a letter to the prime minister and the health secretary, as well as her new Conservative MP Miriam Cates, about the A-level results shambles. Her letter pleads for justice for this year’s A-Level cohort, after being subjected to a failed algorithm that appears to favour private schools over state schools.
Hannah Hinchliffe, 18, of Penistone Grammar School, was fortunate to still be accepted at Lancaster University to study biochemistry, despite being downgraded in her chemistry exam. She acknowledges that the heartbreak she has felt over her result is nothing compared with the devastation felt by students across the country who have had their futures thrown into chaos this week. As former head girl at the school, she felt it was important to speak out in support of her peers.
Hannah’s letter reads: “Lucky should not be a word that is associated with results day. However this year it is, and I consider myself one of the lucky students. This does not change the heartbreak I feel about my chemistry grade. Unfortunately, I feel that the algorithm was strongly affected by not only my postcode, but by the fact that I attended a state sixth form.”
Hannah explains what it was like on A-level results day:
“The atmosphere in school was sombre and the staff seemed on edge. They looked as if they hadn’t slept a wink. It was a complete contrast to GCSE results day where we celebrated with our friends and teachers. I wanted more than ever to hug my friends whose faces told a story of devastation at the grades they had been assigned. It wasn’t how any of us wanted our results day to go.”
Hannah says that her understanding of the algorithm was that the results would be calculated using a few different factors, including prior attainment in GCSEs and mock exams. This doesn’t appear to be what happened, and she received a lower result for chemistry than her grades throughout sixth form, for an exam she didn’t even sit. She and many of her fellow students believe the story would have been different if they’d attended a private school.
Dr Georgina Porter, who works in emergency medicine, posted the A-level results of a random selection of private schools on Twitter, which appear to confirm Hannah’s suspicions. Porter found that the results had all improved from last year.
The anxiety and upheaval for Hannah and her peers first started back in March, when they were told schools would be shutting and exams cancelled. She describes how they all felt, knowing that they would never get the chance to prove themselves, with all their hard work forgotten. But she was reassured by the government’s commitment that later in the year they would receive the grades the fully deserved.
Now, students and teachers alike feel as if they have been lied to, with teachers’ professional judgment ignored. “We feel that we have suffered, because we didn’t attend a private school or because we are from South Yorkshire,” says Hannah. Many are now in limbo. Hannah pointed out to the prime minister:
“Some of your future scientists, politicians, teachers, doctors have missed out on their places at university. There will undoubtedly be another pandemic. Who will provide key services during the next crisis? Who will be the inspiring scientists working to develop a vaccine? Who will be the incredible primary care team caring for some of the sickest in society?”
Hannah’s friend Alice was predicted AAC and came out with BCU. She is now awaiting the results of her appeal, to discover whether she can still study biology at York University. Another of her friends also received a U grade, which she says only usually happens if the student fails to turn up for the exam, or writes nothing of any relevance to the paper. It’s hard to see how it’s possible – or legitimate – for so many hard-working students to receive such significantly downgraded results.
The Good Law Project, led by Jo Maugham QC, has already started proceedings to challenge what has happened. Yesterday, the team took the first formal step in their judicial review, issuing a letter to Ofqual, copied to Gavin Williamson, pointing out the failures in the system and the office’s duties and obligations. Ofqual has until Wednesday to address these defects before legal proceedings are issued. You can support this action HERE.
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Although Hannah is excited to be attending university this year, the circumstances make this emotion bitter sweet.
“It’s been hard to celebrate because of what so many other students are going through and also because of my disappointing chemistry grade. I hope my letter can portray the pure emotion that I, and thousands of other students across the country, are feeling. We feel outraged, devastated, but most of all let down by a government who promised us so much. We just want out futures back.”
Across the country students, teachers, parents and others are calling for the government to make a U-turn and revert to centre assessed grades, as they’ve done in Scotland. This would seem to be the fairest decision the government could make. The education minister in Northern Ireland today confirmed that GCSE students there will be awarded their predicted grades on Thursday. Meanwhile, in typical government style, rumours circulated this morning (Monday) about a possible announcement on a change in policy.
Nothing confirmed, all very anonymous … but perhaps this spells hope for England’s A-level and GCSE students.