The Student Room Group

A-level results are a national disaster

The gulf between private and state schools has widened during the pandemic causing a 'national disaster' for Britain's poorest students with fee-paying institutions accused of gaming the A-level system that handed teachers the power to grade their pupils with barely any moderation.

Today it was revealed that 70.1 per cent of teenagers at fee-paying schools received an A or A* in a subject in 2021 - compared to around 35 per cent in council-run comprehensives.Education campaigners have said the pandemic has 'compounded' inequality in schools, especially for those in poorer areas, and there also signs that middle class children in sixth-form colleges and grammar schools are also falling further behind private school counterparts.

As private schools pulled further away from state counterparts, Conservative MP Robert Halfon, chair of the Commons Education Committee, warned the last year 'has been nothing short of a national disaster for our disadvantaged pupils'.

He told BBC Radio 4's World at One programme: 'I do worry about the fact that we seem to have, in essence, baked a hard rock cake of grade inflation into our exam results. I would have preferred a system which had some kind of standardised assessment and we wrote to the secretary of state, our education committee, in March urging that this would be done.'

He added: 'Every effort from the Government should be to focus on reducing that attainment gap, I'd like to see the Prime Minister announce a serious long-term plan for education - the last year has been nothing short of a national disaster for our disadvantaged pupils.'

Sir Peter Lampl, founder and chair of the Sutton Trust and chair of the Education Endowment Foundation, said: 'Since March 2020, our research has consistently shown how much harder state schools particularly those in less affluent areas have been hit by the pandemic. The pandemic has compounded existing inequalities and today's results are a reflection of that. We're seeing growing gaps between independent and state schools at the top grades'. He added that university admissions should be weighted in favour of 'lower income youngsters' and 'disadvantaged students'.

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Do you have a source for this?

Very few schools are still LA run, and I'm amazed anyone has collected data on them specifically vs MATs.

LA schools are not necessarily worse performing than academies.
(edited 2 years ago)
In my, admittedly limited, experience of this year, I've heard of more state schools flirting with the rules than private.

Private schools are meant to perform better or there'd be no point in going. Grades in general have soared massively.

Many less affluent students have been hit harder due to less access to technology and that sort of thing, but I don't think it's fair to turn it into a private VS state issue.
(edited 2 years ago)
Original post by ashtolga23
In my, admittedly limited, experience of this year, I've heard of more state schools flirting with the rules than private.

Private schools are meant to perform better or there'd be no point in going. Grades in general have soared massively.

Many less affluent students have been hit harder due to less access to technology and that sort of thing, but I don't think it's fair to turn it into a private VS state issue.

A lot of people with experience such as @Reality Check are aware of outright malpractice in private schools.

The data does also show grades have increased more in private schools, which should not be the case really.

It is true there may be other factors affecting the most disadvantaged students, but most students who go to your average state school will have reasonable access to technology, and many of the most disadvantaged were in school throughout lockdown, so you might expect them to actually do better!
Original post by SarcAndSpark
A lot of people with experience such as @Reality Check are aware of outright malpractice in private schools.

The data does also show grades have increased more in private schools, which should not be the case really.

It is true there may be other factors affecting the most disadvantaged students, but most students who go to your average state school will have reasonable access to technology, and many of the most disadvantaged were in school throughout lockdown, so you might expect them to actually do better!

Interesting points you make there.

I go to a private school who I believe kept their integrity, so I suppose I just want to defend their honour in case people think they'd be unreliable. I don't know about all of them of course, but mine was honestly realistic. It's a shame that some have to ruin it for everyone else. The inflation is so crazy, there must have been a lot of malpractice.

That's kind of what I was trying to say sorry. Going to a state school isn't necessarily going to mean you'd struggle with distance learning more than someone at a private, it's more the people who struggled to get access. I didn't realise most of them would be in school though so that's good to know!
Original post by ashtolga23
In my, admittedly limited, experience of this year, I've heard of more state schools flirting with the rules than private.

Private schools are meant to perform better or there'd be no point in going. Grades in general have soared massively.

Many less affluent students have been hit harder due to less access to technology and that sort of thing, but I don't think it's fair to turn it into a private VS state issue.

I agree with this. Anecdotally, I've heard kids at private schools are getting what they always get, or slightly lower. Kids at state schools are getting higher - because a lot of them have been assessed on a smaller fraction of the syllabus - and there's no disincentive for their teachers to give them A* under all circumstances.
Original post by SarcAndSpark
A lot of people with experience such as @Reality Check are aware of outright malpractice in private schools.

The data does also show grades have increased more in private schools, which should not be the case really.

It is true there may be other factors affecting the most disadvantaged students, but most students who go to your average state school will have reasonable access to technology, and many of the most disadvantaged were in school throughout lockdown, so you might expect them to actually do better!

Yes, exactly (and thanks for the tag).

Original post by ashtolga23
In my, admittedly limited, experience of this year, I've heard of more state schools flirting with the rules than private.

Private schools are meant to perform better or there'd be no point in going. Grades in general have soared massively.

Many less affluent students have been hit harder due to less access to technology and that sort of thing, but I don't think it's fair to turn it into a private VS state issue.

The worst cases of centre malpractice I have come across this year have all been in the independent sector. More specifically, second and third-rate 'private schools' which aren't hugely flush with money, and where sharp-elbowed, social climbing parents who couldn't afford a 'proper' school shout loudly and insistently in order to get their child pushed to the front of the queue. And whoever pays the piper, calls the tune.

I went to a public school myself, so this isn't some bias against the independent sector, by the way. It's what I have experienced and seen this year.
Original post by SarcAndSpark
Do you have a source for this?

Very few schools are still LA run, and I'm amazed anyone has collected data on them specifically vs MATs.

LA schools are not necessarily worse performing than academies.

It is now being widely reported in most of the media.

Nice graphic in daily mail, but also reported in guardian etc

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-9880051/70-teacher-assessed-levels-marked-private-schools.html
Original post by SarcAndSpark
Do you have a source for this?

Very few schools are still LA run, and I'm amazed anyone has collected data on them specifically vs MATs.

LA schools are not necessarily worse performing than academies.


https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-58086908

A BBC news article published today at 10am. They use "comprehensive" and "independent" schools instead of "state" and "public" but same thing.
A pretty crazy statistic, whether it's exaggerated or manipulated.
Original post by GodAtum
The gulf between private and state schools has widened during the pandemic causing a 'national disaster' for Britain's poorest students with fee-paying institutions accused of gaming the A-level system that handed teachers the power to grade their pupils with barely any moderation.

Today it was revealed that 70.1 per cent of teenagers at fee-paying schools received an A or A* in a subject in 2021 - compared to around 35 per cent in council-run comprehensives.Education campaigners have said the pandemic has 'compounded' inequality in schools, especially for those in poorer areas, and there also signs that middle class children in sixth-form colleges and grammar schools are also falling further behind private school counterparts.

As private schools pulled further away from state counterparts, Conservative MP Robert Halfon, chair of the Commons Education Committee, warned the last year 'has been nothing short of a national disaster for our disadvantaged pupils'.

He told BBC Radio 4's World at One programme: 'I do worry about the fact that we seem to have, in essence, baked a hard rock cake of grade inflation into our exam results. I would have preferred a system which had some kind of standardised assessment and we wrote to the secretary of state, our education committee, in March urging that this would be done.'

He added: 'Every effort from the Government should be to focus on reducing that attainment gap, I'd like to see the Prime Minister announce a serious long-term plan for education - the last year has been nothing short of a national disaster for our disadvantaged pupils.'

Sir Peter Lampl, founder and chair of the Sutton Trust and chair of the Education Endowment Foundation, said: 'Since March 2020, our research has consistently shown how much harder state schools particularly those in less affluent areas have been hit by the pandemic. The pandemic has compounded existing inequalities and today's results are a reflection of that. We're seeing growing gaps between independent and state schools at the top grades'. He added that university admissions should be weighted in favour of 'lower income youngsters' and 'disadvantaged students'.

Is that why Boris congratulated the A*/A students (a.k.a privileged kids)
You’re right that they are a disaster but not fully for the reasons you’re giving. I mean there are so many people predicted like Bs and Cs who got A*s, and those predicted (for example a youtuber I saw) AAB or ABB got A*A*A*A* (fourth was in his EPQ). It just makes 2020 school leavers look dumber if they took a gap year, and pre-Covid school leavers even dumber looking.
My private school straight up refused to use the government released material for many reasons:
a) we had already done it in 5 sets of previous mocks without knowing questions, mark schemes, hints or anything
b) they felt like state schools would cause an attack on their evidence if they didn't make it essentially unarguable

I sat 19 full-length exams in May for A-Levels, my local state school sat 2 1hour tests per subject and sent in homework as evidence sooo....

We finished all our syllabus and in some subjects, we finished months early. We had a full timetable and extra thorough lockdown, whereas most state schools half-arsed 2-3hours a day. If exams had actually been sat I am afraid the gap would of been much larger...

I think the fact most private schools had completed more assessments enabled them to prove their kids could achieve those higher grades, whereas in many state schools it was a 1-time thing...

Though at the same time there is no way to judge if it was private schools or state schools who milked teacher assessments more because you don't know what the figures would have been if they had actually sat the exams...

It's all about the management of the school, did they actually teach kids during a lockdown? did they organise mock exams for after lockdown periods? did they prepare students to revise? Some of the best-managed state schools most definitely would have beaten many private schools.

However at the end of the day when your data is sent to moderation they don't know where this student is from, what school they go to, their name, if they have a disability etc so they have to be honest about the standard they think they achieved and if the evidence was representative or not. Exam results are about the individual at the end of the day not the school...
Original post by Googley_eyes
You’re right that they are a disaster but not fully for the reasons you’re giving. I mean there are so many people predicted like Bs and Cs who got A*s, and those predicted (for example a youtuber I saw) AAB or ABB got A*A*A*A* (fourth was in his EPQ). It just makes 2020 school leavers look dumber if they took a gap year, and pre-Covid school leavers even dumber looking.

Can you link where you read this? It really annoys me that privileged kids are benefitting from this.
Original post by Hanifchowdhury
https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-58086908

A BBC news article published today at 10am. They use "comprehensive" and "independent" schools instead of "state" and "public" but same thing.
A pretty crazy statistic, whether it's exaggerated or manipulated.


Comprehensive and state, and public and independent are not synonyms.
FWIW, I am sure there are schools in both sectors who have done the wrong thing, and schools in both sectors that have done the right things BUT it does seem the most disadvantaged have lost out disproportionately, whilst some of the more privileged have benefited.
You also have to remember a lot of private schools took on grammar school repeat students who got the worst out of last years results and a lot of them are selective schools...

My school had about 50% A-A* grades, and ironically the richest kids actually did the worst, there were people who didn't get their first choice, and others who only got Cs

I honestly think they were more realistic and cautious with results than the media is portraying, especially if you consider how exam results have been calculated this year with pre-release material being the number 1 thing for most schools.

You have to ask though, how much of this is on schools not supporting low-income students and those with learning disabilities during the lockdown. I know many schools didn't even speak to there students 1 on 1 (or in a class setting) to ensure they had everything they needed, was doing okay and wasn't struggling etc
Original post by Reality Check
Yes, exactly (and thanks for the tag).


The worst cases of centre malpractice I have come across this year have all been in the independent sector. More specifically, second and third-rate 'private schools' which aren't hugely flush with money, and where sharp-elbowed, social climbing parents who couldn't afford a 'proper' school shout loudly and insistently in order to get their child pushed to the front of the queue. And whoever pays the piper, calls the tune.

I went to a public school myself, so this isn't some bias against the independent sector, by the way. It's what I have experienced and seen this year.

It's quite surprising to me. I do believe you, it's just disappointing.

I think all round the board there's been stuff going on anyway. I just heard of someone getting Ds in psychology who suddenly came out with an A* (I believe that was state). It's all just a mess.
Original post by ashtolga23
It's quite surprising to me. I do believe you, it's just disappointing.

I think all round the board there's been stuff going on anyway. I just heard of someone getting Ds in psychology who suddenly came out with an A* (I believe that was state). It's all just a mess.

Oh, I completely agree with you. It's very disappointing, and a complete mess.
Original post by ashtolga23
It's quite surprising to me. I do believe you, it's just disappointing.

I think all round the board there's been stuff going on anyway. I just heard of someone getting Ds in psychology who suddenly came out with an A* (I believe that was state). It's all just a mess.

My old state school was giving kids who got a grade 5 at GCSE in a subject A*s like ... you don't improve that much
Original post by Reality Check
Oh, I completely agree with you. It's very disappointing, and a complete mess.

Dyu think GCSEs will be inflated to the same extent as A levels?

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