Despite Welsh Government’s claims that the the recent A-level controversy is based on a “fair” and “very robust” system, the groundswell of young people outraged by the downgrading-by-algorithm of over 42% of Welsh students is beginning to sound deafening. Here, A-level student and Welsh Youth Parliament Member for Wrexham Jonathan Powell, 18, channels the anger and sadness of thousands of his peers.
Entering the exam hall was not an option. Cramming in revision could not go ahead. Working for those grades suddenly became waiting for those grades. It was not us – It was them. They cancelled our exams. They gave us their assurances. It will be fine. It wasn’t fine. Grades are more than letters on a page. They determine our university. They pave the way for future careers. They will stare at us from the pages of our CV. Welsh Education Minister Kirsty Williams has claimed the system that has caused this mess is “fair” and “very robust”. But hiding behind words like “robust” does not sit well with young people, especially when we’re the very young people who have received far lower grades than they were expecting. It is wounding when we are the generation who will miss out on a future of opportunities courtesy of the “robust” system proudly designed and tailored by the Welsh Government (with WJEC and Qualifications Wales).
The injustice is great. My peers and I have been victimised by a regime who have opted to prioritise statistics and convenience over students. Around the country people young and old are uniting and voicing their anger following what will go down in history as the most inequitable and discriminatory A-Level results day this country has ever known. Undeniably, thousands have been abandoned by a system the Education Minister believes will “ensure learners feel their exam grades are fair”. It is now clear that she is wrong, and we do not feel this system is fair; and this demands accountability.
We were led to believe that this process would heavily rely upon the grades given by our teachers, those professionals who have guided us, encouraged us, and have got to know us as individuals as we have grown and toiled. We were lulled into a false sense of security that made us think our grades would be calculated based equally upon the different aspects of our academic achievements. We were guaranteed that this would be a fair and level playing field. This is far from the truth. We have been deceived, taken advantage of, and ill-treated. Teachers, unions and students are horrified that this process has lacked transparency. The original claim that all else would pivot from centre assessment grades now seems comical considering that 42.2% of students had their CAGs downgraded. The considered evaluations of the expert professionals who know us best have been replaced with an algorithm that leaves out vital sets of data. We are not dealing with a mistake. We are not faced with an uncontrollable situation. We are confronted with a calculated, fallacious and frankly inexcusable system implemented by the very Welsh Government who originally pledged that we would be awarded what we deserve.
In Westminster, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has rightly demanded ‘a return to teacher assessments for A-level results.’ When UK Labour sound more like Plaid Cymru and Welsh Labour sound more like Boris Johnson’s government, something is most definitely wrong.
Surely, behind the scenes is a Welsh administration that realises the dire situation they have created. Yet they ardently preach that unlike England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, that their methodology is fairer and stronger due to the retention of AS Levels. Despite this defence, the majority of students would vigorously disagree that having AS Levels should justify the significant reductions in individual grades seen and felt across the nation. AS’s count only for 40% of the course, and students hone their skills over the period of two years allowing for module resits in their final examinations. We were told these grades would play a role in the process of standardisation; we now see that these grades dominated the process.
The Welsh Government’s chosen form of standardisation did not take into account possible module resists, already completed coursework, or internal examinations that are taken throughout the year. No; rather, it requested centre assessment grades and used a mathematical algorithm that downgraded the 42% and devalued what our professional teachers awarded. Why are our teachers being ignored? This statistical modelling is proof that the Welsh Government lacks respect for our educational professionals and considers our education a form of experimentation.
The severity of this travesty goes far beyond distraught individuals. We have collectively suffered at the hands of the discriminatory system, built around a flawed algorithm, instigated by a careless Government that has lowered 32,105 grades. These grade reductions have caused many higher-achieving students at historically lower-achieving schools to suffer. Colleges have experienced downgrading of up to three grades. Students have missed out on university offers and now we are experiencing the fallout. The hypocrisy is demonstrated in the fact that the Welsh Government refuse to backtrack and instead have adapted the appeals process causing chaos, confusion and misery. The once highly restrictive grounds for appeal now accepts appeals using evidence from internal assessments, the very internal assessments that the teachers originally used to calculate the centre assessment grades – that got downgraded. We can expect the downgraded 42% to appeal using the very same assessment evidence thus wasting the taxpayer’s money, swamping the appeals process and causing many students to miss their appeal deadlines for getting into university.
The Welsh Government has demonstrated time and time again an inability to deal with this educational crisis. Following the A-Level results day young people like myself across the nation have been left feeling worthless, helpless, betrayed and stressed. Not only will the decisions made during this period affect university offers and future careers but also the mental health and wellbeing of many across the nation. Doing something different doesn’t make it better and doesn’t make it right. My message to the Welsh Government is this: put your trust in teachers. Stop playing politics with young people’s lives. Stop punishment by statistics. Acknowledge the flaws in the algorithm. Stand by your teachers assessment grades and set your young people free. There is no other option.
Jonathan Powell is the Welsh Youth Parliament Member for Wrexham. Despite the downgrading, Jonathan was accepted into Jesus College, Oxford, where he will read law.