I Lost My Place at Oxbridge Due to England’s Exam Results Algorithm

August 14, 2020 Off By Ruby Lott-Lavigna

Yesterday, students across England received results for tests they never sat.

Due to A-Levels exams being cancelled during the height of the coronavirus pandemic, students’ grades were generated based on marks predicted by their teachers, and adjusted using an algorithm created by the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual).

However, when state school students were given their grades, many were shocked to find that their results had been downgraded. Data from Ofqual confirmed a worrying trend: a greater number of private school students had received higher grades compared to state school kids, as its algorithm takes into account schools’ previous exam record and even class size. Both would unfairly disadvantage students at large comprehensive schools and sixth form colleges.

As it emerged that almost 40 percent of this year’s A-Level results had been marked down, teachers, politicians and students are now calling for the grades to be reconsidered.

Britain’s equalities watchdog ERHC has asked Ofqual to give a full account of the “steps taken to remove bias” against ethnic minorities and those from disadvantaged backgrounds in its algorithm, while Education Secretary Gavin Williamson is under pressure to resign. Labour leader Keir Starmer has also pushed for the government to make the same U-turn seen in Scotland earlier this week, when over 100,000 exams grades were reinstated.

Ana*, who moved from Portugal to the UK when she was ten, received her A-Level results yesterday. She was studying psychology, philosophy and English at a sixth form colleague in east London. After receiving two A*s and one A in her predicted grades, and supporting her UCAS application with extracurricular activities including summer school at the Courtauld Institute of Art, she was accepted by the University of Cambridge to study history of art.

But things didn’t go as planned on results day, when two of her grades were marked down. She has now missed out on her place at Cambridge.

VICE News spoke to Ana about her day.

“I was at home [when I found out],” she says over the phone. “At first, I was very nervous because UCAS wasn't loading properly. It was taking so long, which gave me mild anxiety.”

“Then I got my A-Level results from my school email first. When I opened that and saw that I got three As, at first I was a bit hopeful because Cambridge was saying how they were going to be lenient, seeing as there's a pandemic, and I thought I was at least going to be in summer pool, which is where you are put if you miss your offer. That didn't happen, which made me a bit upset.”

“After a few hour hours, the school called me and advised me to go to an appeal process, but they didn't give me a lot of details because they didn't know a lot of details themselves. I have to wait for next week until the exam board has more information about the appeal process.”

“My sixth form is in a highly deprived area, so results tend to be quite poor. It’s a new sixth form so basically, we are the second year. The first year, they didn't have a lot of good grades on results day. From what I heard, around 40 percent of people had an E for maths and no one got an A* for English and no one got an A for philosophy either, which is the subject that I'm doing.”

“I'm confused and I do think that me going to a state school affected [my results]. I was lucky because I got three As at the end of the day, and other people got worse grades than expected, but I'm still upset about missing my first choice uni.”

While Ana has been offered a place at University College London, she is unsure about what to do next year.

“It's very upsetting. I feel they should have let teachers take the upper hand. On the other hand, I do understand they don't want student A-Levels predicted higher. There's no right answer, but I don't think results should have been decided by an algorithm because it's not going to be fair for anyone. Especially state school students and students that live in poorer areas.”

*Name has been changed.