Pupils protesting outside Downing Street Photo: Shabbir Lakha Pupils protesting outside Downing Street Photo: Shabbir Lakha

Students taking to the streets against the Tory algorithm that downgraded working class students’ grades have defeated the government, report Lucy Nichols and Jamal Elaheebocus 

A Level students have successfully forced a government u-turn on the decision to use grades given by an algorithm rather than by their teachers. The algorithm meant that as many as 40% of students have had their results downgraded from the grade they were predicted by their schools.

The algorithm disproportionately downgraded students in low-performing state schools, usually in the most deprived areas. While private schools saw a 4.7% increase in the number of students who received an A or above compared to last year, secondary comprehensive schools saw just a 2% increase and academies saw only a 1.7% increase. Extraordinarily, over 21,000 students got awarded a U grade, which is usually given to students who do not turn up to the exam or write anything in the exam.

After thousands of students lost their university offers, they took to the streets in protests around the country. One student at a London protest said:

All of our grades have been impacted massively because of our postcodes, our school postcodes. Everything that has impacted us is stuff that is out of our control, and the people that are benefitting from it are basically Tories, people at private schools.

All the people in there, we know where they came from, Eton and all these fancy private schools. They don’t give a crap about us… All the people in private schools are getting higher grades, and it’s not a coincidence that people from disadvantaged backgrounds are getting lower grades – that’s deliberate.

Zoe Hemming-Clark, one of the organisers of the London protest on Sunday said:

I think that the situation shows the government’s neglection of the youth, as it has had 6 months to prepare for this day and yet it still doesn’t know what it is doing. How are we supposed to prepare for our futures with a government which has taken 5 days to make an announcement about what’s going on? I think it is sloppy, as for the injustices faced by my fellow students, I think it is appalling, it is blatantly classist and wrong, the government has nowhere to hide. What they have done wrong is clear to everyone.

With a nationwide outburst of outrage and more protests planned, the government has been forced to back down. A Level and GCSE results will now be based on the grades predicted by teachers, rather than those dictated by an algorithm.

The issue now is how this is going to work out for the many students who were rejected by their preferred universities, as Josie Whitely in East London put it:

Although I was alright, some of my friends were told by their universities that they can’t go to their first choice, so I don’t know how that’s going to work out. Even though we’ve got the predicted grades now, because it’s a u-turn and the government are acting like they’ve done us a massive favour, it’s sort of an issue. Although they’ve got the U-Turn and they’ve got the grades they might not still be able to go to their first choice. A lot of people don’t know if they’ll be able to go to University even if they appeal, because some Universities can’t give us a clear answer.

This is a huge victory for the many thousands of state-school students who have missed out on university places, jobs and apprenticeships. There will still be much to struggle over in dealing with the fallout from the government’s shambles, the safe return to schools and universities and that go to the heart of how education is run. Students have shown that they are capable and willing to take on the government – and win.

As with every issue during this pandemic, working class people have been treated with contempt by this government and have been disproportionately disadvantaged. Like every victory for the working class during this pandemic, it has come from the bottom up.  

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