Thousands of A-level students were met with disappointing marks on results day after a new government algorithm was introduced to deal with nationwide homeschooling as education facilities remain shut amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham said on Saturday that he is considering legal action against the government over the A-level results scandal, calling the reduction of students grades the “single biggest act of levelling down this country has ever seen”.
“If they think it is fair I’m afraid they are only demonstrating how out of touch they are with young people in some of our more deprived communities who have had their futures taken away from them”, he said on BBC Breakfast in response to claims by the government that the results which students across the country received on Thursday were “robust”.
The former Labour leadership candidate said the situation necessitated an “urgent intervention” and that he would be looking at charging the government with a potential breach of the Equalities Act over the algorithm they used to standardise A-level grades.
“I believe this system that has been used is inherently discriminatory against young people who go to larger colleges and they tend to be in inner city, working-class areas”, Burnham said.
“One of our most successful inner-city sixth form colleges had 1,654 results downgraded and then we hear some private schools have had no downgrades at all”.
He added that the system “straightforwardly discriminatory against larger institutions” and against students who attend the affected sixth form colleges, or FE colleges and the weighting “has been applied against those institutions and not against some of the smaller institutions”.
“I am considering taking legal action and looking at all options as to how we might do that. It just can’t be allowed to stand. The government’s remedy of saying the appeals can be free – am afraid that doesn’t help young people who have lost their university place”.
Education secretary Gavin Williamson defended the decision not to revert to predicted grades and told The Times that ministers would cover the costs of any appeals made by students
Williamson also insisted that the government will not U-turn on the algorithm, which has been heavily criticised by MPs and parents.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson also defended the results calling them “robust” and “dependable for employers”, noting that there’s a “record number of candidates, of students, who are able to get their first choice course at the university of their choice.”
“Plus, there’s a record number of students, of pupils, from disadvantaged backgrounds who now as a result of these grades, will be able to go to university”, the prime minister said.
Ofqual revealed earlier this week that nearly 40 percent of teachers’ assessed grades in England were marked down by the system after taking into account historic academic performance.
The body said that there was no evidence of “systemic bias” from the algorithm.
It claims that the results changes were “relatively similar” across all socio-economic groups, adding it was “difficult to draw firm conclusions” over the relationship between deprivation and grade adjustment.
Separate data from the exam regulator however also revealed that private schools saw an increase in the proportion of students being awarded top grades (A*/A), more than double of what was awarded to their comprehensive and sixth form counterparts.